BACKCOUNTRY USE INFORMATION INDEX
A.) Be bear aware
B.) “11 Essentials”
7) Pocket knife
10) Pepper spray
This program is merely an extension of other informal programs that have been facilitated historically via chat page conversations, e-mail, Loonion web site, phone conversations, or word of mouth. There is no formal club. There are no by-laws. Unlike some hiking or ski clubs, there is no formal governing body. This also means there are no “trip leaders”, only “activity coordinators”. Activity coordinators are individuals that propose an activity. Those that choose to participate in a scheduled activity assume all the risks and obligations that would accrue to any person that elects to enter the backcountry of one of the subject national parks or other public lands nearby solo.
is this the case?
First, because most activities will take place in a national park, we
must carefully avoid any semblance of fees being paid or compensation being
given. This could run us afoul of rigid
rules governing concessionaire permits.
In the case of
We are strictly individuals who share a common interest and are utilizing a sophisticated technological tool to enable the sharing of that interest.
bear aware. If you are less than 100% confident in your
understanding of how to behave in grizzly country, visit this web site:
“10 Essentials” – Most hiking clubs have embraced
this way of thinking to help insure members do not forget items critical for
survival. The list changes from group to
group, geography to geography, and from time to time. Many people will add a few other items. Here is our best stab at a list appropriate
1) Water – bring more than you think you need (at least 2 liters or quarts). Bringing a filter can alleviate the need to carry extraordinary amounts of water, but make sure there will be accessible water available to filter. Electrolyte replacement drinks (like Gatorade, PowerAde, etc.) are OK, but not in large quantities. For most activities, they should not be used until at least 2 hours into the activity, and then they should be diluted at least 50%. Avoid bringing anything sugary, like soft drinks or lemonade. They can actually backfire and make you more thirsty. For multi-day trips, having a backup, like iodine tablets, in the event of a water filter failure can be invaluable.
2) Lunch, plus extra food – no lectures here, other than to use common sense. In summer, chocolate can make a melted mess in your pack in hot weather. Some items (including certain candy bars) have a habit of freezing as hard as a brick under winter conditions. Carbohydrates and fruits are good options.
gear for summer ventures
– Regardless of the weather when you leave the trailhead, you may need that
breathable, rain repellant outer layer later in the day. It commonly clouds up
and storms in the afternoon throughout the northern
Extra layers of clothing – important
for both summer and winter. Most summer
treks will only require a wool or synthetic (fleece) shirt in addition to rain
gear. In winter, you want a head to foot
additional layer available.
Keep in mind: COTTON KILLS! Cotton does not insulate when wet. This is not the place to go hiking in a cotton t-shirt and blue jeans. Look around. What is everybody else wearing? Almost all backcountry veterans these days are making use of the newer garments made of hydrophobic (water repelling) fabric. If this is new information to you, visit a sporting goods store that caters to backpackers, backcountry skiers, canoers, climbers, hikers, etc. Ask for help with acquiring clothing made with synthetics. In winter, most folks opt for a 3 layer system, utilizing insulated underwear made of hydrophobic material like capilene, polypropylene or thermax. It insulates while wicking moisture away from the skin. The next layer is typically an insulating layer of fleece or wool, something that insulates, even when wet. Ideally, that layer should continue the transport of moisture to the outer layer. The outer layer is typically a shell of some sort, made of a breathable, moisture repellant membrane coupled with a tough outer shell and an inner lining. Gloves should be a combination of an insulating layer and a breathable fabric. Gore-tex and Thinsulate are common glove component layers. A wool or synthetic hat completes the ensemble.
5) Means of starting a fire – waterproof matches and a cigarette lighter are appropriate, along with an initial fuel. I used to carry Fire Ribbon, but found out in a Wilderness First Responder class that duct tape works just as well (got to test it under real winter conditions). Duct tape can also come in handy for a myriad of other applications, including first aid and constructing victim transport.
6) Sunglasses (goggles in winter), sunscreen, and a hat. If you need an explanation, you’ve already spent too much time in the sun.
7) Pocket knife – Second only to duct tape in its versatility as a tool in emergencies
8) First aid kit
9) Compass and/or GPS and map – If you get separated from the group, you may find this a critical need. These items can’t help you if you don’t know how to use them!
10) Pepper spray – If you don’t know what this is for, revisit the link in II-A.
11) Flashlight or Head Lamp – preferably waterproof, with spare batteries. Hopefully, you will never need it, but ask anyone that has been delayed reaching the exit trailhead until after dark, and you will hear about how important this item is. (Thanks to Tom Carter, author of Day Hiking Yellowstone, for reviewing this material and suggesting this important addition.)
It is important that every individual that hits the trail have the 11 Essentials in their pack or on their person. If you get separated from the main party it won’t do much good if someone else is carrying your rain gear, water, food, pepper spray, ………………. Here’s a simple protocol to follow when packing for day hikes or ski/snowshoe days. “If you had to spend the night in the backcountry unexpectedly, could you do it in relative comfort.”
C.) Comfort – these are items beyond the 11 Essentials that might not save your life, but might make a world of difference in how you feel at the end of the day. In some cases, they could even save your life or somebody else’s.
pack appropriate to the mission
– Occasionally, I see someone laboring up a trail using an external frame
backpack for a day hike. Packs are like
houses. Your possessions expand to fill
the available space. Just bring what is
necessary. At the same time, having a comfortable, well-fitting pack can make a
world of difference in your ability to complete the trek and feel good about
it. This is not the place to argue the
merits of ultra light packing, external vs. internal frame backpacks, or built-in
versus ancillary camelbacks. If you need
a pack, consult the pros at a retail establishment like
Boots – Remember the statement that “a
pound on your feet is like 5 pounds on your back”. Actually, recent research has refined that
equation to be “one pound on your feet is equivalent to 6.4 pounds on your
back”. Of course, basketball players
have been known to wear weights on their ankles in practice, so if it’s a short
hike and you want to train for something big, go ahead and wear those 5
pounders. I haven’t worn a non-Goretex boot since about 1980.Just remember, don’t wear Goretex boots in thermal mud. I ruined two pairs of Danner Lights walking
through thermal mud in
3) Foot care remedies – Bring what works for you. I routinely carry an assortment of Dr. Scholl’s corn pads and other circular pads to deal with hot spots. For the serious stuff, I carry moleskin. I’ve never had to use the moleskin on myself, but I’ve sure made a few other people’s day by pulling it out for them miles from the trailhead.
4) Hot pads or HotHandsä for winter (or even cold, wet spring roadsides) – These little wonders of chemistry can last for hours. We found a box of 40 pairs at Costco real cheap. Just put them in your gloves or the toe of your boots.
5) Walking or hiking sticks – Today’s version of that venerable old standby can make a profound difference in hiking comfort. Spring for the shock absorber-equipped version for a real treat. Don’t go cheap on this item! Quality counts. There is no end to the potential uses for these gems. They are invaluable for crossing streams on logs or rocks. They can help transfer some of the weight off your feet, particularly on downhill stretches, where they do wonders for problem knees. Some folks carry little attachments that turn them into monopods. Telescopic poles can be valuable components of a litter used to transport an injured party.
6) Insulating pad – Invaluable in winter for providing a dry warm place to sit while eating lunch or taking a break, they weigh very little and can be strapped to the outside of a pack. Some folks even bring them in the spring and summer.
7) Toilet paper in a waterproof bag – For treks above treeline, you might consider a ziplock bag to carry out used toilet paper and feces.
1) Other wildlife – Besides bears, there are all sorts of other critters that you might encounter in the backcountry. Some can kill you if you’re not careful.
Bison – These gnarly beasts are responsible
for more injuries annually in
b.) Moose – Everybody wants to see one, but many people are unaware just how dangerous this species can be. A cow moose with a calf might take exception to your crowding them to get a photo. You wouldn’t want a bull to mistake you for a rival during the rut (or a cow for that matter).Steer clear and stay alive.
c.) Elk – Surprised that this critter made number 3 on the list? You wouldn’t be if you spent much time around Mammoth during the rut. We had one bull spearing cars with his antlers one fall a few years ago. Visitors have been treed by irate cows with calves. I’ve been bluff-charged countless times by cow elk in Mammoth just trying to do my job. If you ever happen upon a newborn elk calf laying in the grass or sagebrush, leave it alone. Their mothers commonly leave them that way while they wander off to graze. The newborns are scentless. Their mothers know they are relatively safe from predators when they stay hunkered down in the vegetation.
Rattlesnakes – There is a small population of
prairie rattlesnakes in the lowest elevation part of
– There are both coyotes and grey wolves in
2) Insect issues – One could argue that these belong under safety, and it would be hard to refute that proposition, particularly considering the growing risk associated with encountering two of our subject critters. Bring insect repellant.
Ticks – These little pests hang out on the
branches and leaves of vegetation waiting for unwary mammals to walk by. They are nature’s consummate
hitchhikers. Thankfully, their presence
tends to peak early in the season. Prime time to be concerned with ticks is
spring and early summer. There are two
types of diseases you can contract from ticks.
The really dangerous variety is Rocky Mountain Spotted
Fever. Visit the linked CDC web
site for information on this rare, but serious disease.
There is a more common, but much less serious illness that is spread by infected ticks, known as “tick fever” or “Colorado Tick Fever”. Check out this state of
Off-trail activities in May and June tend to increase the tick hazard markedly. We make an extra effort to wear light clothing (so ticks show up much easier), minimize contact with branches, brush, and leaves, and conduct extensive tick checks afterward. Tonya recommends spraying the bottom of pants with a REPEL insect block. She does that and has never picked up a tick. Our experience over decades of hiking in the
Mosquitoes – Until recently these “winged
assassins” were no more than a transient nuisance in the northern
Research has shown that mosquitoes are attracted by carbon dioxide in high concentrations. The exhaled breath of their targets tends to be rich in CO2. If you can hold your breath for hours they just might not find you.
Bees/wasps – The northern
3) Altitude sickness – This curious little ailment can strike virtually anyone, regardless of their physical condition. It can also trouble those who have been at altitude regularly in the past with no apparent affliction. The primary cause is the lack of sufficient hemoglobin (red blood cells) to transport oxygen. In the thin air of higher elevation, your body needs time to build additional hemoglobin. It takes about 3 days to make up half the deficit, with the remaining increase strung out over time. The best way to avoid altitude sickness, characterized by headaches and nausea, is to stay hydrated and well-rested. This is one of several reasons for taking frequent short breaks when doing steep ascents. The only known cure for this disorder is to descend to a lower elevation.
4) Dehydration – This is a chronic problem in the backcountry, particularly on day hikes. It decreases your energy level and can contribute to the onset of altitude sickness. Make sure you are well-hydrated prior to starting out. Drink regularly throughout the day. The experts tell us if we wait until we are thirsty to drink we have waited too long. If you are not stopping periodically to urinate during the hike, you are not drinking enough water. If your urine is dark yellow, that is a sure sign you are not drinking adequately. The Wilderness Medicine Institute tells us our urine should be “clear and copious”. Avoid diuretics like alcohol and caffeinated drinks in the backcountry. They backfire and cause the loss of liquid.
Hypothermia – This is a KILLER! We will never know how many drownings in the lakes of
features – Beware of
thin crust and overhangs. There are so
many different ways to do yourself in. Expiring as a result of thermal burns is one
of the most painful.
trees – particularly
in times of high winds. This would be an
almost comical advisory anywhere else, however, even before the 1988 fires
falling trees had claimed lives and a substantial amount of private property in
Avalanches – Those that venture into the
backcountry under winter conditions must be wary of these potentially fatal snowslides. By far
the best way to deal with them is by avoiding the type of conditions that produce
avalanches. Stay tuned in to the latest
avalanche condition information. The
Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center is a good source of current
information on avalanche danger.Their web site is
A good source of generic information about avalanches is
A.) Pre-registration – Activity coordinators are encouraged to require participants sign up for backcountry activities, particularly long day hikes and overnight trips. There are a number of reasons for this:
are limits on the number of campers allowed at virtually all backcountry
are finite limitations on how many vehicles can fit at certain trailheads.
Pre-registration can facilitate car-pooling arrangements to cope with
this. One of the features that makes
3) Advance sign-up allows the activity coordinator to respond to questions from participants in advance. This also facilitates a screening process to insure that those signing up are capable of completing the activity in a safe and timely manner.
4) It is not unusual to have to make eleventh hour adjustments to itineraries, particularly for day hikes. Trails are closed periodically due to carcasses that attract bears or unexpected maintenance issues. Weather concerns can also manipulate the plan. If the activity coordinator has “Can Be Reached” information, it is much easier to notify participants of necessary changes.
1) Activity announcement: Always err on the side of giving too much information, rather than less, in the activity information on the calendar. Mandatory information to be supplied in the calendar announcement includes:
b.) Trail or location name
d.) Whether activity is one-way (enter one trailhead, exit another) or roundtrip
f.) Elevation gain/loss
g.) Pace (leisurely vs. forced march, or something in between)
h.) Any significant water crossings (ford, logs, rocks)
i.) Will this be trail-based or a bushwhack (off-trail)?
j.) Any need for technical climbing gear/skill
k.) For winter, avalanche exposure – whether shovels, probes, and beacons are necessary
l.) For overnight trips, which campsites will be used on which days
m.) Any recommended equipment beyond the 10 Essentials, e.g. cameras, binoculars, Crazy Creek Chairs, shovel, plant identification guide, wolf chart, swim gear, fishing gear/license, PFD (for water trips), FRS radio
2) Communications: It is vitally important that you establish two-way communications with prospective participants. Bare minimum, furnish either your e-mail address or a phone number where participants can contact you to sign up for your activity. In a pre-registration scenario, you will give participants the meeting place and meeting time info once they have committed to attend.
communications: This can make or break an activity. You need to be thinking and planning ahead
for that last week to 10 days prior to an activity. You may have left home and headed for
4) Screening participants: You owe it to the individuals that contact you as well as the other members of the group to insure that prospective participants are up to the task. Ask them about previous experience in comparable activities. actor in the altitude. If the itinerary calls for a brisk pace, be sure this person is comfortable with that. Remember that your group will be traveling in grizzly country. It is not an option to segment the group midstream to accommodate both fast and slow participants, unless each group would have at least 4 individuals and be comfortable being separated.
5) Day of activity: Arrive early at meeting place. Round up the participants. It is your call on how late you wait for late-comers. My suggestion is that anything more than 15-20 minutes is penalizing all those that made a special effort to be there on time. Get everyone organized. If there are participants that have not met each other, initiate introductions. Before departing, gather everyone together and review protocols for the activity. A quick review of Essentials may be appropriate, particularly easy to forget items like hats, insect repellant, sunscreen, sunglasses. Make sure people are carrying enough water or have a filter if water will be available on the activity. Does everyone have their pepper spray? Get a final count of participants before hitting the trail.
1) If an activity requires pre-registration, please conform to the procedure. There are typically multiple reasons for requiring advanced sign-up.
2) Be brutally honest in your self-assessment of your abilities and your responses to questions posed by the activity coordinator. It may save both of you a lot of embarrassment and discomfort in the backcountry.
3) Provide “Can Be Reached” info as accurately as possible that applies to those last few days before the scheduled activity. If there is a methodology supplied to check for last minute changes, avail yourself of the opportunity and make the effort. In the event some unforeseen emergency prevents you from participating, make every effort to get word to the activity coordinator or one of the other participants.
4) Arrive at the meeting place no later than the scheduled meeting time. If you are the sort of person that will sign up for an activity, then opt out if you happen to run across a pack of wolves or a tap-dancing moose enroute to the meeting place, I would suggest you not sign up in the first place. Those that engage in this flighty behavior risk acquiring a reputation that precedes them. The word will get out, and most activity coordinators will turn you away from future activities. If you are that fourth person necessary to reach the magic “four or more” mark or you have the all-important second vehicle necessary for a shuttle between trailheads, you can ruin those other participant’s day. Don’t be selfish!
5) Arrive at the meeting place prepared. Have your gear in a state of “trail readiness”. Review the 10 Essentials in advance. Make sure any desired comfort or optional items are along.
6) Identify any relevant medical conditions to the activity coordinator. If they require medication, be sure to bring it along.
7) On overnight trips, volunteer to cover some of the cost of the $20 campsite reservation fee. If carpooling in someone else’s vehicle, offer to reimburse a portion of the gasoline expense.
8) Do not wander away from the group during the activity without checking in with the activity coordinator first.
1) If the activity coordinator has not required pre-registration, their may be protocols identified in the calendar announcement. Short trips, like Bunsen Peak, Grizzly Lake, Monument Geyser Basin, Fairy Falls, Lone Star Geyser, Duck Lake, Riddle Lake, Elephantback, Storm Point, Clear Lake/Ribbon Lake, Ice Lake, Cascade Lake, Grebe Lake, Mt. Washburn, Lost Lake, Trout Lake, Yellowstone River Picnic Area trail, and Wraith Falls might not require pre-registration. In that case, the activity coordinator needs to post any info that participants will need to know in the announcement.
2) The activity coordinator should lead the group, unless the coordinator delegates that responsibility to a veteran participant.
3) The first several individuals on the trail should be carrying easily accessible pepper spray in the event of an encounter with an aggressive bear. A veteran participant, equipped with pepper spray, should take up the rear position.
4) In a group with differing abilities, the slowest participant should be placed near the front of the group to insure the pace being set is not too fast for them.
of 4 or more are highly recommended for backcountry travel in grizzly
areas. That is because no group of 3 or
more has ever been attacked by a grizzly in
6) In overnight activities, food must be secured in accordance with NPS procedures. Hang food high enough and far enough away from trees that bears and other scavengers can’t access it.
canoeing or kayaking, stay together.
Self-rescue in the frigid waters of
8) In winter, keep an eye on each other for signs of frostbite or hypothermia. Err on the side of caution.
9) Remember, today’s “participants” are tomorrow’s “activity coordinators”!
10) Observe all park rules and regulations.