8 Tips to Make Your Next Outdoor Adventure a Safe One


Every so often we hear grim news stories about outdoor adventures gone badly wrong – and they’re not just happening on big mountains or on gnarly ocean waters. North Vancouver is a great example and a place where the dedicated Search and Rescue volunteers are kept busy looking for or attending to people in the north shore mountains. Every year people head out, ill prepared, poorly dressed, and/or under equipped and get lost or somehow get themselves into a life threatening predicament.

Sometimes you get lucky and the adventure just forms the basis of a good story. And yes, I’ve got my fair share of adventure stories. Fortunately I’ve learned from them too.

Have you heard of Aron Ralston? – the fellow whose only option in the end was to cut off his arm. He might never have had to resort to that if he had done one simple thing – left an itinerary of where he was going and when he expected to be back. It could have been worse. He could have died.

The best thing all of us can do when planning an outdoor adventure is to go prepared for the unexpected, with the necessary tools – both mental and physical.

Here are 8 tips to make your next adventure a safe one.

Group Dynamics

"Group dynamics is one of the keys to working as a team"

Good group dynamics are one of the keys to a successful outdoor adventure

How well do you know your group? Is there a natural leader? How skilled are the group members? How are you going to make decisions if something goes wrong? Do you share the same goals?

These are all questions to think about before you commit to an outdoor adventure – especially one of any length or one where you’re heading to a remote setting. It’s a really good idea to spend time beforehand with your group to see if it’s a fit.


"A summer storm moving in"

A summer storm moving in

We obviously have no control over the weather but we can usually get a weather forecast and then make an educated decision. Forecasters screw up a lot. But if there’s a big storm approaching, chances are they’re all over it and you’re going to get hit with some sort of weather event.

Should you be heading out? It depends. If there’s lightening in the forecast, then boating and climbing high mountain peaks are poor choices. If snow is in the forecast and you’re wearing cotton and heading for the hills, then you’re putting yourself at risk for hypothermia. Use some common sense.

Weather can change without warning. Are you prepared to turn back?

Acts of God

"Landslide on the Tour du Mont Blanc"

Landslide on the Tour du Mont Blanc

Last year while hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc the heavens opened for hours and many of the steep hillsides became unstable – in fact, mini landslides occurred. This one was severe enough that we had to retrace our steps and stay in a hostel instead of our planned hotel, just an hour away on the other side of the slide. We were lucky we weren’t caught in this – but we were smart enough that we didn’t try to get to the other side .

Wildlife Encounters

"Black bear on Vancouver Island"

Black bear on Vancouver Island

Bears are one of the biggest barriers to outdoor adventures for so many and by far the number one concern voiced by people I have met all over the world. I have friends and family who won’t venture into the hills, even with a group because of bears; and just so you know – there has never been a bear attack with a group of four or more. But bears aren’t the only issue. There are mountain lions, snakes, scorpions and biting insects – almost enough to keep you inside forever. Educate yourself about these animals and the chance of having an unfortunate encounter are greatly reduced.

Before you head out you, read my blog on How to Survive a Bear Attack.

Route Finding

"Not every trail is as well signed as the Tour du Mont Blanc"

Not every trail is as well signed as the Tour du Mont Blanc

Get yourself a compass and a GPS and know how to use both devices. For those of you only carrying a GPS, ensure you have extra batteries. An old fashioned detailed paper map is still a very useful item to have with you – and one I don’t plan on giving up anytime soon.

Route finding on land or on a lake can be very challenging especially when the visibility is compromised. Not all trails are nearly as well marked as the tour du Mont Blanc and that’s where map reading skills come in handy. If you’re uncomfortable with navigation, take a course or join a group where someone is knowledgeable – and learn from them.


"Breaking a bone far from help can be very problematic"

Breaking a bone far from help can be very problematic

Everyone should have a first aid kit if they’re heading out on an adventure. It should be more substantial the longer you’re planning to be gone and the further you are away from help.  Take courses so you know what to do in an emergency – and you know how to act. It could save your life or someone elses.


"Do you know what the major health issues are for the people you're traveling with?"

Do you know what the major health issues are for the people you're traveling with?

If you have diabetes, asthma or you’re prone to seizures, then chances are you need drugs. Ensure you have extra supplies. And divulge your condition to the group you’re traveling with. Tell them what they need to do in the case of an emergency.

Equipment Failures

"Unless you're McIver a badly damaged canoe will put an end to your trip"

Unless you're McIver a badly damaged canoe will put an end to your trip

Before you head off on an adventure test all of your equipment. Practice putting your brand new tent up at home – and not under adverse conditions. Does your stove work? Do you have spare parts? Carrying simple things, like a basket for a ski pole can make a huge difference on an outing. Go easy on your equipment. Keep it in good working condition.

Don’t forget to carry the 10 Essentials with you on every outdoor adventure – a map, compass or GPS, a flashlight or headlamp with spare batteries and bulb, a one day supply of extra food, sunglasses, a pocket knife – with 2 folding blades, a screwdriver, bottle opener, can opener, scissors and awl, fire starters – buy the paste or even a candle, matches, extra clothing and a first aid kit.

I also bring water and some way to purifying it, sunscreen, a bivy sac – even a green garbage bag is great, and insect repellent.

Do you have any more tips for outdoor adventures?

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Leigh McAdam

Photo credit: Broken arm, insulin, canoe

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