13 Lessons from Backpacker’s Out Alive

Could you survive an outdoor emergency? The guests on Backpacker’s podcast Out Alive were put to the test when they found themselves in harrowing life or death situations. Throughout their stories lessons emerge that could help you survive should you find yourself in a similar situation whether that’s a bear mauling, avalanche, rock slide, forest fire, or other backcountry emergency.

Woman stands on ice with her dog at Dunbar Falls on a snowy winter day.

1. Always Leave a Trip Plan

Many of Out Alive’s guests survived because they told someone where they were going and that person notified authorities when they didn’t return home. Leaving a trip plan with the location, length, and nature of your wilderness trip is one of the most important things you can do to ensure a rescue. It’s also easier to maintain hope and morale when you know someone will be searching for you. Learn what you should include in your trip plan here.

Recommended episode: Stranded on a Ledge

2. Preparation and Training

It’s very difficult to make clear decisions in an emergency. Many survive crisis situations because preparation and training allowed them to act automatically. Increase your chances of surviving by taking outdoor courses in wilderness first aid and activity-specific training.

Recommended episode: The Science of Survival

3. Keep Your Ego in Check

Pressing on in dangerous or uncertain situations for fear of rejection or failure can be fatal. If your gut is telling you a situation is unsafe, it’s best to listen.

Recommended episode: Broken and Alone

4. Carry Bear Spray

Bear spray is the best way to deter an aggressive bear: it is more effective than carrying a loaded firearm. Practice removing bear spray from the holster, removing the safety, and discharging it. Enter the backcountry with a full can and keep it on you at all times.

Recommended episode: Mauled by a Grizzly

5. Be Aware of Your Surroundings

Knowing the risks of a particular area is important. Pay attention to avalanche and fire conditions. Know local animal predators, poisonous plants, and other dangers.

Recommended episode: Bit by a Rattlesnake

6. Have a Plan B

Have an exit plan should something go wrong. This can be an easy escape route to a nearby highway or a place to take shelter in bad weather. Map out any backup routes and include them in your trip plan.

Recommended episode: The Science of Survival

7. Carry an Emergency Notification Device

Communication devices, like personal location beacons and satellite messengers, allow you to signal for help. Beacons send an SOS message with your location tag. Messenger devices call for help, ping your location, and can also send text messages. You can buy devices with GPS, SOS, and satellite phone capabilities.

Recommended episode: At the Heart of the Matter

8. Keep an Eye on the Weather

Check the weather and don’t ignore signs that the weather is turning. Leave dangerous areas when there is risk of bad weather.

Recommended episode: From Desert Paradise to Death Trap

9. Stay Calm and Stay Safe

Try to stay calm in an emergency. Some situations need to be dealt with immediately. When possible, sit and think things through before acting. If someone is in trouble, take your time and don’t put yourself in danger.

Recommended episode: Mystery on the Mountain

10. Avoid Sketchy People Like Bears

Sometimes the greatest threat in the outdoors is other people. Avoid sketchy people and don’t let them know you are travelling alone. Leave a trail or campsite if you feel unsafe.

Recommended episode: Tragedy on the Appalachian Trail

11. Don’t Forget Your Gear

Carry the ten essentials and any activity-specific items you need. Carry them even on short and seemingly harmless trips.

Recommended episode: Buried in an Avalanche

12. Careful Not to Drift into Dangerous Scenarios

While we tend to think of emergencies as sudden onset events, they are more often the culmination of many bad or unlucky decisions. We tend to “drift into the survival scenarios” when we don’t register red flags. Previous training, taking things slow, and keeping your ego in check can prevent drifting into danger.

Recommended episode: Alone and Injured in the Wilderness

13. Maps Can Be Misleading

While a map is an essential item, know that they aren’t always good indicators of what you will see on the ground. Roads may be overgrown, water might be dried up, and the landscape could be altered due to fire, flood, or other man-made or environmental events.

Recommended episode: The Science of Survival

Check it Out!

I highly recommend the Out Alive podcast. The stories so gripping that I listened to all three seasons in a few sittings. Here’s to hoping we never find ourselves in similar situations. Happy adventuring!

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