Plan Ahead

The one thing we can be assured of in Nova Scotia is changing and unpredictable weather conditions, which can impact even the most perfectly planned day trip. Here are a few basics to keep in mind from our friends at AdventureSmart, including essential equipment for any outdoor adventure—whether it’s planned to last only a few hours or several days.

Making a trip plan is one of the most important things you can do to prepare for any outdoor adventure. Trip plans can be as simple as a verbal exchange between you and someone you trust about where you are going and when you anticipate returning, or as detailed as a written document left at home, in your car or with a friend or family member not travelling with you. Including information like the number of people in your party, what gear you are taking, your intended route and destination, and an emergency contact will help search and rescue personnel better understand the situation should you become lost. Check out a sample trip plan here.

Often lost subjects do not start out lost—they simply run out of daylight and are unable to get back to their car or the trailhead before night falls. Once it gets dark, the chances of getting lost become much greater. Although we are all equipped with limited night vision, we are much more vulnerable after dark and moving at night can be dangerous without a source of light. Carry a flashlight or headlamp (and spare batteries!) with you on all outdoor adventures, even if you only expect to be out for a few hours.

A basic fire-making kit could include waterproof matches, a lighter, firestarter and/or a candle (e.g., small tealight). Simple items like these can be vital to staying warm enough outdoors during a change in the weather, an injury or an unplanned overnight. A small fire can keep you warm, dry wet clothes, cook food, signal where you are, melt snow or boil water, keep animals at bay, and also improve your mood—all key to surviving unexpected stays in the woods.

A whistle or a small mirror can increase your chances of being heard or seen. It takes much less energy to blow a whistle than it does to yell and the sound carries farther, too. A signalling mirror is responsible for more search and rescue subject sightings by aircraft than any other type of signal, and can be spotted from a rescue plane over 8km (5 miles) away.

Sometimes a trip can last much longer than anticipated, and having extra food and an additional one litre of water per person can make the difference between an extended stay and a survival situation. Outdoor activities require energy, and having extra food can give us the boost we need to get out of an unplanned situation. Water is even more important, and is needed by the body even more than food. A loss of 10% of total body fluid will cause extensive disruption of bodily functions; a loss of 20% usually results in death. Under “normal” circumstances, a person can survive for only 3 minutes without air, 3 days without water, and 3 weeks without food.

The importance of bringing extra clothing cannot be underestimated, and yet often people do not bring enough clothing to keep warm in changing conditions. It is easy to misjudge the conditions you will encounter if you only look at the weather at the time of your departure. Plan ahead: check weather conditions, including long-range forecasts, and carry extra clothing at all times. Hypothermia is a serious risk if you do not prepare to survive unexpected deterioration of the weather. Even in summer, temperatures can vary dramatically depending on the terrain and time of day. Pack rain, wind, and water protection as well as a toque when you travel in the woods.

Always carry maps and a 360 degree compass with base plate at minimum. A Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver unit, cellular phone, satellite phone or handheld radio—all with fully charged batteries—are also valuable tools. Know how to use these items, but don’t rely on them. Having a charged cell phone on hand may be your priority, but this can change quickly when faced with the prospect of being lost. Many areas of Nova Scotia have little to no coverage, and batteries run down fast. Cell phones won’t keep you warm or well nourished, and they can’t help you navigate out of a situation if they don’t work. The sun, landmarks, and other land formations are equally useful navigation tools, so keep your cell phone powered off and pay attention to the natural features around you.

Self-reliance in the wilderness is important—help is not usually a phone call away. Carry a basic first aid kid and know how to use it. Outdoor travellers are advised to take a first aid course or a wilderness first aid course that teaches this self-reliance when far from help.

Tarps can be very useful when creating a makeshift shelter to keep you dry in inclement weather, and can also be used as signalling devices. Always carry a tarp in your pack—it may mean the difference between staying dry or getting hypothermia.

A knife is an important survival tool, and has myriad uses including shelter building, collecting firewood, cutting rope or improvised bandages, and making emergency modifications to gear.

Sun exposure can lead to hyperthermia, dehydration, and mild to severe burns. In bright environments like snowfields, it can also lead to snow blindness. These conditions can be painful, dangerous, and debilitating. Carry sunglasses, sunscreen, and a hat with you at all times.