Episode 52: Hiking, Backpacking and Staying Safe in the Wilderness


Episode Summary:

Humans have a long history of two healthy and accessible activities: walking & hiking. But being in the wilderness is more than a walk in the park. In this episode, experts from WA and CO discuss hiking benefits, preparation, safety, and respect for nature.


Lee Jacobsen, JD. Lee is a Seattle attorney and avid hiker and backpacker. He is a founder of the Washington Hikers and Climbers Facebook group, an 8-years-running FB hiking community of over 200,000 people in WA state.

Tim Durkin MD. Tim is a physician with board certification in both emergency and sports medicine, based in Colorado. Dr. Durkin is the chief medical officer for Base Medical, a wilderness medicine education company, as well as medical director for the San Juan National Forest, SAR program coordinator for Colorado Highland Helicopters, and a responder with La Plata County SAR in Colorado. He is a former paramedic and Eagle Scout, with over 25 years of technical wilderness SAR experience. Dr. Durkin practices emergency medicine at a rural hospital serving Native Americans and occupational medicine for public safety agencies. Opinions expressed today by Dr. Durkin are his own and not official positions of any of his employers or affiliates.

During This Episode We Discuss:

  1. Walking and hiking have a multitude of health benefits for all ages: physical, mental, emotional, and social. 

  2. To get into hiking, start easy and build your skills and physical strength. Walk a lot where you live to stay in shape for hiking! Many hikers started out as walkers in cities, towns, and parks. 

  3. Consider conditioning/maintenance exercises that build your muscles for going uphill and downhill. Do more single leg work and planks. Working on glutes pays dividends going downhill.

  4. The Ten (+) Essentials are important for hiking safety on the trail. Many hikers carry more than 10 essentials when hiking in the wilderness. Note: one of these essentials—a fire starter—is not advised for use in many places in the western US, given the high risks of forest fires.

  5. Being prepared for wilderness hiking: have the 10 essentials, know details of your routes in advance, leave notice where you’ll be, be ready for weather changes, and be able to take care of yourself & others in the wilderness. Learn more in this episode on hiking in the wilderness. It’s helpful to know some first aid, wilderness first aid, avalanche awareness, map, and compass reading, and Leave No Trace practices. There are courses available on all of these through the resources listed below.

  6. We discuss Leave no Trace principles and examples. They are important to know and honor on our trails and in the wilderness. As more people get outside on trails, we all need to work to keep our impact on the environment and wildlife to a bare minimum, to keep it as natural and pristine as possible. 
  7. There are lots of resources for beginner (and more experienced) hikers and backpackers (see resources below). 

  8. Hiking and backpacking build new skills, improve physical & mental health, exhilarate and exhaust you, introduce you to new friends, and let you deeply experience nature in the wild.

  9. Backpacking in the wilderness requires more than the ten essentials: know how to use all the gear, undergo conditioning to prepare for walking on trails with a very heavy backpack, and know how to keep food, yourself, and the environment safe. Go with experienced people a few times to learn all the ropes. The rewards of learning, sleeping, walking, and walking in the fresh air and wilderness are worth every minute of preparation and sore muscles. 

  10. When a hiker is 1 mile or 10 miles deep in the wilderness and they are in trouble, Search and Rescue Organizations (most are volunteer-staffed) send out wilderness-trained first responders. People get lost, injured, overdue, or sick in the backcountry. Having a satellite (or other) emergency communication device is critical for contacting help from the backcountry.

Quotes (Tweetables):

——“When I get out on a trail and look at mountains and the natural environment, the stress of life becomes secondary, you’re just there in the moment.”

Richard Pelman

—— “Hiking is a very zen-like exercise; you’re not in a hurry to get anywhere, you live in the moment.”

Lee Jacobsen

— — “Like a runner’s high, there’s a hiker’s high too.”

Lee Jacobsen

—— Tips for conditioning activities for hiking: “Build up walking/hiking mileage each week, so you’re doing 10+ miles across the week, to get ready for a one-day 10-mile hike”

Tim Durkin

—— When you are in the forests and mountains, “Remember you are a guest in an animal area, keep your distance.”

Tim Durkin

  1. Washington Trails Association—A nonprofit organization. “Washington Trails Association mobilizes hikers and everyone who loves the outdoors to explore, steward, and champion trails and public lands.” Trail information is specific to Washington State, but there is much on their website that is useful to anyone—general hiking information and tips for hiking.
    • For example, see Trail Smarts, which has a lot of how-to videos.
  2. The Mountaineers— A nonprofit “outdoor community of 14,000 active members in the Pacific Northwest. Founded in 1906, getting people of all ages outside safely and responsibly for over 100 years.”
    • The Mountaineers have much to offer anyone no matter where they live:
    • The Mountaineer’s book publishing and information resources are useful to hikers worldwide, including maps and a range of books and guides that provide detail about hiking & climbing tools, techniques, skills, and safety in the wilderness.
  3. Base Medical — Their mission is “to empower a safe outdoor community through access to innovative and sustainable education.” They have some online training available. Our guest Dr. Tim Durkin is Chief Medical Officer for this organization.
  4. WHC – Washington Hikers and Climbers, public FB group “for Washington hikers, climbers, snowshoers, cross-country skiers, and other outdoor inclined residents of or visitors to the state.”
  5. NWAC —“The Northwest Avalanche Center exists to increase avalanche awareness, reduce avalanche impacts, and equip the community with mountain weather and avalanche forecasts, education, and data.”
  6. All Trails — An app-based retail organization that aims to connect people with the outdoors; large resource of curated trails and detailed trail information with global coverage.
  7. MeetUp Groups — There are thousands of walking and hiking meetup groups in the US and globally. A great way to meet like-minded walkers/hikers and learn and explore together.
  8. FB Groups — A great way to meet like-minded walkers/hikers and learn and explore together.
  9. REI — A cooperative retail organization that not only sells gear but also provides lots of information resources online and in classes and group events for hiking, camping, and staying safe in the wilderness.

Episode Transcript:

Coming soon!

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