Fall is a GREAT time to hit the trail and do some hiking. Make sure you help your scout and his siblings know how to stay “found”. While many of us have spent considerable time in the woods there’s always a chance for even the bed of us to “misplace” the trail. So, here are a few simple tips on what you can do to prepare your scout and keep them safe.
1) Carry a day pack on even the shortest of hikes and ensure it is packed with the essentials. Even the youngest scout should have water, a jacket and hat (rain gear), a whistle, a personal first aid kit, a flashlight, snacks (trail food), and a plan. This is not exactly the same as the “ten essentials” described by BSA but it’s appropriate for the very youngest. Older scouts could consider adding a pocket knife, map and compass, and a fire starter if they have the corresponding skills. I would add a paracord style bracelet and a space (or emergency) blanket.
2) Have a plan. Yeah, I know it in the list but some detail of what I mean may be helpful. As it turns out, many youth, when they realize they are lost, run. They bolt in the direction where they believe they lost the trail or where they believe the group they are traveling with might be found. So, by having a plan, you can train your scout to remember, if the trail is missing, stop where you are. Really, that’s it. The plan is to simple and important. The plan can be embellished with more information such as, if you are lost make noise (this is where the whistle comes in). If you are lost, make yourself visible: that space blanket is very shiny. What about your rain jacket? Also, to you parents, camouflage gear may be “cool” but it substantially increases the difficulty you and other searchers may face in an emergency.
3) If the scout becomes separated from his group he should know what to do about shelter, food and water. Let’s start by remembering that water is vital. Your responsibility is to ensure that scouts are staying hydrated and have sufficient reserve, during a hike, to sustain them in the event they become separated from the group. His responsibility is to continue to stay hydrated by knowing some simple survival skills. For example, don’t eat snow as a means of staying hydrated. The energy loss incurred can lead to serious problems and outweighs the benefit of consuming the snow. If it’s a sunny day, snow on a rain jacket may melt and, if so, can be collected for consumption.
4) Having snacks in a day pack is great but the scout should know how to ration their consumption. Also, even in these circumstances, care should be taken to consume snacks in an area isolated from where they intend to “wait it out”. In other words, don’t eat where you (may) sleep (or rest).
5) Be visible. If you have to spend a night and seek shelter under a log, in some brush, etc. think about using your day pack or some other (hopefully bright) object as a visual indicator of your location. It would be a sad thing if you were dozing at the moment that searchers walked right past the site where a dozing scout was asleep.
6) Suspend or modify the “don’t talk to strangers” rule. In some reported cases, lost youth actually hid from searchers because they were taught to avoid strangers. Again, have a plan for this. Some suggest that there can be “city rules” and “woods rules”. Alternatively, a family password might be shared with searchers and group leaders so simply the effort.
7) What if the scout is compelled to “move”? Stay on the trail (any trail). If you come to a road, stay on the road. Remember that all water leads to the sea and, in all likelihood, there is civilization between your scout and the Atlantic or Pacific.
I am sure there are many other good ideas out there and I am eager to hear from you. Leave a comment and I will update this.