Before You Leave the House:
- Check all equipment. Do you have everything that you will need to survive on the trail or in your vehicle if you become stranded?
- Do a complete visual check of your vehicle including the underside and under the hood looking for obvious problems.
- Check all equipment that you will want to carry in the vehicle in case of an emergency.
- Check on extra water for you and the vehicle.
- Check the spare gas for the vehicle.
- Check the spare tire for the vehicle.
- Do you have emergency food in the vehicle?
- Do you have all the necessary maps and GPS or compass?
- Do you have extra batteries (or charger) for your GPS, cell phone, camera, flashlights, etc.?
- Are all of your rechargeable batteries fully charged?
- If you use a camera, do you have extra batteries, media, lens, etc.?
Inform Someone (establish a Contact Person):
A contact person can be anyone that you trust or know is reliable. Tell a family member, friend, neighbor, or co-worker where you are going and your expected time of return. Request that person to contact help if they have not heard back from you by a certain time. Provide them with a map and the route that you expect to take and STICK TO YOUR PLAN. Make sure your contact person has the appropriate emergency phone numbers and description and license plate of your vehicle.
Know Your Limits:
Some of us are not in our 20’s any longer. Keep that in mind when you start out. Try to always hike with at least one other person. Some of us may hike alone at times and that is not always a good idea. Know your hiking partner. Go at your own pace because if you try to keep up with people that are way out of your league, you might end up broken in little pieces or worse. Hike with someone that is at your level or slightly better. On an arbitrary scale of 1 to 10, if you rate yourself as a 4, try hiking with someone at a level 5. This will challenge you and help make you a better hiker.
If you are new to the desert, try starting in the cool spring with short hikes and work your way up to the longer ones and the heat. Take time to acclimate to the warmer and dryer heat. You might have been a great hiker in the Northwest where it is nice and cool most of the time, but the desert and the heat is a different ball game.
Work up to some of the hikes by hiking established trails at first. Don’t try the cross country stuff until you know what you are capable of doing. There are several good hiking books and other resources for the area.
Take advantage of shade whenever possible. When resting, try not to sit directly on the ground, it can be 10 to 30 degrees hotter on the ground.
If possible, rest at least 10 minutes every 60 minutes. Increase your resting time as it gets hotter or when you feel the need.
Everyone should complete a basic First Aid and CPR course, if for no other reason than to be able to help their own family or friends in case of an emergency.
On the average, a person tends to acclimate to the weather in the area that they are living in about 4 weeks. So, if you have just moved to the southwest deserts in the middle of summer, from a cooler environment, you may want to give yourself a few weeks to get use to the heat before venturing out on desert hikes. It would be advisable to start with slow easy hikes on a well traveled trail and preferably not during the heat of the day. If you hike during the summer months, which is not recommended, start very early in the morning and finish in the early morning (and keep hydrated).
If you are going on a long hike and if you know that you are returning by the same route, you may want to stash some water along the way for the return trip. This will help eliminate some weight. Do not forget to mark or “waypoint” the place where you dropped off the water.
Depending on the length of the hike, take multiple bottles of water with you. One can be frozen solid and the others can partially frozen. This keeps the water cooler longer.
We recommend two Garmin 60CS series or Rino series GPS’s. We chose these models because the antenna on these models gets better reception in narrow canyons. The second GPS is used for backup. If you cannot keep two GPS’s with you, ensure that you have another backup method of navigation (such as a compass).
Use mapping software: Delorme topos, National Geographic topos, and All Topo Maps are good resources. Upload waypoints to the GPS to mark the roads and to mark your route in and out of the washes/canyons that you expect to hike.
ALWAYS, always, always mark a waypoint where you parked your vehicle, even if you are on a paved road. How many times have you left the vehicle and lost sight of it in the matter of minutes because of the washes, hills, and just low knolls? Sometimes the old, “I think I parked it just over the next hill” doesn’t quite cut it, unless you are parked at the mouth of a canyon and there is only one way in and out. If you have for some reason neglected to mark where you parked, some GPS’s can “project” a waypoint in case you do not want to “back track”. You may want to take a different route back to the vehicle and marking a waypoint where it is parked allows you to do this without too many problems. If you do not have mapping software, use web sites (e.g., earth.google.com).
If you have a compass, KNOW how to use it. Many people carry one and don’t have a clue how to use it. Consider taking an orienting course through the local community college or outdoor equipment store.