Middle River Dispatches is a gumbo of posts about fly-fishing, conservation, politics and days afield.

Safety in the field

Safety is like sex, we talk a lot about it but sometimes it is more talk than action. Or as my good friend Mamie Parker used to say, “when all is said and done, more is said than done.”

Safety preparations for any outdoor adventure are really pretty simple. If you take a little time getting the appropriate gear together you will be able to deal with many, if not most, of the outdoor challenges you might face when things take a turn for the worse.

Many people think “oh it won’t happen to me.” Well as former search and rescue volunteer I can tell you, it happens more often than you think. I was the training team leader for wilderness safety and survival for my search and rescue group. Over the years I learned some basics that may come in handy for you as well.

Plan, brief, execute, debrief is a military mantra that makes sense in outdoor recreation as well. In fact most of us do it without really thinking about it. We plan the trip, talk it over with whoever goes along, tell them what the plan is, come back and tell our friends what a great time we had.

We also can use that opportunity to inject some safety points and lessons learned into the planning, briefing and debriefing cycle. Things like what to do if we get separated or hurt, how the radio’s work, where the spare batteries are, how much water you need.

Checklists are a good way to keep track of all the things you want to have. They are simple to put together and can be amended as you learn what is really needed and not needed.

Here is a good start based on the so called ten essentials — map and compass, sun protection, rain gear, warm layer, flashlight, batteries, first-aid and meds, dry matches, tinder, knife, food, water and emergency shelter.

You can find a detailed checklist on REI’s Web site.

These items can easily fit in a small backpack and can make an unexpected wilderness adventure more tolerable.

One of the most important things to do is to let someone know where you are going and when you expect to be back. If you change your plan let them know. If I am meeting someone I tell them where I will leave a note so they can find me.

When it comes to clothing dressing in layers is the way to go. One of the tricks is to dress cool. That is not a fashion statement mind you, it means dress for what you will feel like ten or fifteen minutes from now. Carry the extra layer for sure, but put it on when you stop or cool off.

For example if you are hiking a mile or so into a tree stand or fishing hole, under dress by a layer. You are likely to work up a sweat on the way in and wet clammy clothes are not only uncomfortable they draw heat away from your body.

One of the best confidence builders I know is the ability to find your way around in the woods. When was the last time you practiced with a map and compass?

GPS units are great but when they can’t get a fix or the batteries run out, you better be able to use a map and compass. Understanding how to use a map and compass to help you find your way in the field is an essential skill and some regular practice can never hurt.

So as you venture out to hunt and fish this fall take some time to think about your own safety in the field.

You can read more of my columns at the News Virginian.com.


  1. Safety is like sex! haha, I totally agree. Great article!

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