Keeping Safe

The US national park service recieves a tremendous number of visitors in all kinds of situations and so their statistics are numerically meaningful. Fortunately, they publish statistics on visits. In 2016 they reported almost 1.5 billion recreactional visitor hours and this included 15 million overnight stays. Of interest here are the 2 million which were classed as backcountry overnights and another 4 million as tent campers. On average, and excluding suicides, around 120 people die each year in these parks – one every 12.5 million hours of visitation.

According to the Washington Post, who cite the National Park Service, 90% of all the deaths (2003-2007) were attrubted (in order) to the following;

  1. Drowning >350
  2. Vehicle Accident >250 (27% were caused by drivers distrated by the scenery)
  3. Fall >150
  4. Suicide >125

Wildlife attacks are amoung the rarest ways to die in the national parks. Between 2007 and 2013, 4 deaths. Much more likely causes are avalanche, pre-existing medical conditions and heat/cold exposure.
In the wild, you are venturing into their domain and as such, all wildlife should be treated with respect and caution. Statistically, however, there are much more likely ways to meet your maker.

Vehicle accidents and suicide have little specific context in backpacking and so we’ll focus on those causes more relevent to backpacking. Namely, drowning, falling, heat/cold exposure and dehydration. Each of these can be the result of a simple accident or ‘a perfect storm’, more often than not, they are caused by poor planning, in adequate equipment or lack of knowledge/experiance to judge the risk and/or apply a good technique.

River Crossings

River crossings are dangerous. Given that it is possible to drown in still water a finger length deep, attempting to cross a deep fast flowing river is very dangerous. One of the most common causes of death in US national parks is drowning. Far more than what most people fear …


There are more than 100 million insects for every human on the planet, so pretty much anywhere you go, there will be insects waiting to say ‘Hi’. Some will see you as their next meal ticket and this usually involves a blood meal. Since most insect don’t necessarily care where …

Hanging a Bear Bag

Hanging a bear bag is not easy, but it is essential for keeping safe. In almost all parks and places where bears are present, law requires that food is kept away from bears. Regardless of the legal aspect, backpackers have a moral obligation to keep their food away from bears. Bears …

Water on the Trail

Hiking is one of the most relaxed and fulfilling things – so little to think about. On a through hike, the next source of water in the trail is one of the very few things to think about.