Calculating Risks: Planning for Backcountry Survival

Going into the Backcountry has its own set of risks associated with simply being there. There is unpredictable weather, unstable terrain, and wild animals. When you take a step into the backcountry you are stepping literally into the food chain, something a lot of people never experience. So that means you need to be mentally, physically and logistically prepared. Simply walking to the store in your home town is no daunting task, a rolled ankle or a sprained knee means really nothing but pain and a bit of an inconvenience. Those injuries in the wild can put you into a survival situation, instantly.

So in order to get ahead of the problem (Because that is all survival preparedness is…is getting ahead of problems before they are a problem.) you need to take a look at what exactly is involved with survival in the event of an emergency. You need to think about where you are going and formulate a plan that ensures that you can leave with no problems. Know where you are going, know what dangers and problems are present and think and plan ahead to avoid serious situatons.

The spectrum of survival can be broken down into a pie that shows 10% of your survival is based on your equipment, 10% on your knowledge or kills, and 80% on your will to survive. Having the right tools will help keep your mind right and positive in order for you to walk out of a deadly situation alive.


Humans cannot survive without water, we can last months sometimes without food and we can gut out some pretty extreme weather conditions as long as we can stay properly hydrated. So no matter where you are going in the backcountry, make sure you bring water. Now of course water is bulky and heavy so you need a sustainable means to drink clean water. Bring along a water filtration system like a life straw or a gravity fed filtration system. This will allow you to turn almost any filthy water into safe and clean water. There are water bottle systems that include water filters that allow the end user the ability to drink clean water as well. This way you cut down on weight but also always have options for water. That is of course if water is available to you. If not you need to plan ahead and bring enough or have another alternative.


Shelter not only gives us protection from the elements it also gives us mental security. We like to have walls around us protecting us, so even having a small rain fly with you or a trap could mean the difference between you sleeping in the elements and sleeping under a roof. This is something you should include with you even on day hikes because you never know what can happen. Even if you are bringing a tent, a rain fly or tarp can really augment a camp and for those times you don’t feel like hassling with a tent, a fly works well for a lean-to.


You need a means to start a fire if you plan on surviving. Fire not only is essential for our mental stability in a harsh survival situation, it is a means to treat water, to cook food (scavenged, gathered, trapped, hunted, caught), provide light in the darkness (more security) it also serves as a means to signal to others our location. Smoke can be seen for miles and flames can be seen clearly from the sky at night. So bring along matches and lighters but know they both sometimes fail, get wet and won’t help you. So always keep an alternative means to starting a fire like a flint and steel or a fire starting rod. These will help give you a sustainable means to start and maintain a fire.


Most people in survival situations are only days away from rescue, so make those hard days about survival, and not about enduring by bringing these tools with you. To help better your odds should you be faced with a survival situation the best thing you can do is inform people where you are going, and when you expect to be back.

Permits for the Backcountry are part of how you operate when you visit a National Park. They have a system that ensures that the trails are not overcrowded and safe that you have the best overall experience that you can. They have a planning system that allows you to plan out your trip and know where you are going, and where you will most likely end up for the night. (Weather and terrain of course dictate that as well as your speed and timing) So in the event of an emergency people know where to start looking for you. That is above all the safesty way to ensure that you will make it out of a bad situation, so do your due diligence and let people know your plan!

Physical Fitness

Hiking and living in the backcountry even for short periods of time require a lot of effort, and energy. It is very taxing on the body and since most of us live pretty sedentary lives, its important to make sure you take care of yourself BEFORE you head out. You need to be in shape to be safe out there, a rolled ankle can happen to anyone its just easier to mitigate the damages to yourself if you are in shape. Not only that but the sheer amount of work that is involved carrying your pack over hill and dell requires you to be in shape, or else you are going to be putting yourself at risk. So eat well, exercise and train before you head out. Survival is all about getting ahead of problems.

Being in the backcountry is a rewarding and therapeutic experience that can turn deadly by one wrong step, one false move, or one hungry bear. So be prepared for where you are going. Pack the essentials and make sure you are mentally, physically and logistically prepared. I work in Search and Rescue, I have no problem coming and finding and helping you should something bad happen. Just know that when you do not prepare, and do not plan that you put others people’s lives at risk. So think about everything you do, and take it seriously. Just because its fun does not mean its safe or without risk. Calculate those risks and then enjoy your time in relative safety.