Backcountry Risk Assessment

Backcountry Risk Assessment

What if you get lost or injured?

If you’re in the middle of Disney Land, you’ll be okay; but if you’re in the middle of a 3 day packrafting trip in rural Idaho, your chances of survival are completely in your hands and subject to your preparedness.

Backcountry risk assessment isn’t just about being prepared. It’s about identifying and choosing the level of risk you’re comfortable with by understanding what could potentially go wrong. First, I’ll share some personal examples of when the expected and unexpected hit, and how we dealt with them.

The first is example is one you’re probably very familiar with, even if it’s never happened to you: a flat tire. Historically, every new vehicle came with a full size spare. In early automobiles, there might even have been two spares, and they were easy to get to. This was because tire technology was in its infancy, and road conditions were usually pretty atrocious. Now, most new drivers don’t know how to change a tire in an emergency, and a lot of new cars come with a can of sealant instead of a spare tire. We can conclude that automotive manufacturers have assessed the risks and decided that it’s within their safety margin to exclude spare tires on many new vehicles.

We can easily assess the level of risk by looking at 4 key factors:

  • What is most likely to go wrong? What are the chances?
  • What are my options for fixing the situation?
  • Is help available? If so, what do I need to be ready when help arrives?
  • What is my personal risk acceptance? What is my party’s risk assessment? What is the risk level for someone helping me?

Looking at the flat tire example, let’s say you’re preparing for a 3-day overlanding trip with two other vehicles on the Washington Backcountry Adventure Route. It runs North-South between Oregon and Canada on mostly dirt roads, a few miles on a highway, and several road crossings. Cell phone coverage is spotty at best, and there are gas stations every 50 miles or so. What is most likely to go wrong? There is a significant chance that someone in your group will get a flat tire.

What are my options for fixing the situation? Can of sealant, tire patches and a compressor, spare tire, run on the rim until you can get help, send a friend’s jeep to retrieve a spare tire. Is help available? If so, what do I need to be ready when help arrives? AAA is not going to help you here, so you’ll need to be able to get to a main road from wherever the incident occurred.

What is my personal risk acceptance? What is my party’s risk assessment? It’s a three day trip, so it’s probably not life threatening if you get stranded and need to wait for your friend to return with a spare. But it’ll ruin the trip. Some people have a very high risk acceptance, while others may have a very low risk acceptance. i.e.: sky diving vs. not willing to fly commercially.

Personally, I’d say bring the spare. A can of sealant or tire patches won’t fix a tear in the sidewall, and that’s a likely way to ruin a tire on an offroad trail. On smaller day trips, I don’t usually bring a spare if I’m wheeling my jeep within walking distance of my truck/trailer. I carry patch kits, valve stem kits, and onboard air. For 90% of flat tires, I can fix them on the trail. For the other 10%, maybe my fun day will be less fun, but it’s a risk I’m willing to take so I can get a better departure angle.

Ok, so the spare tire example is pretty straightforward. But let’s look at something a little more life threatening: backcountry glacier travel. This one has actually happened to me twice… on the same mountain!

The situation is: a group of 10 people on a 4 day July ascent of Mt Olympus in Washington state. The itinerary is intended to be: hike two days to base camp, spend one day summiting, and one day to hike out. Round trip, it’s about 50 miles, it starts at sea level and ends around 8,000 feet. Most of the group is off-duty search and rescue, so any necessary rescues are “absolutely not, I’d never live that down.” Multiple people have Garmin In-Reach, which has satellite texting and location sharing abilities.

Crossing a glacier and snow field is inherently dangerous. We were well prepared with ropes, axes, crampons, and a quick skills refresher prior to summit day. However, on two separate trips, a member of the group sustained an injury. One year it was severe blistering from hiking the approach in mountaineering boots; the next year it was rolling an ankle on a rough section of trail while wearing approach shoes (two different people). Ironically, this risk assessment example isn’t about proper shoe choice, but rather what we chose to do after the injury occurred.

So put yourself in their shoes (pun intended): you’ve taken a week off of work to do an epic hike with your friends, but now you’re sitting in basecamp, twenty miles from the car, with a (literal) blister on top of a blister or a swollen ankle; and you’ve got to decide if you attempt the summit that you’ve been longing for all year, hike yourself out in two days, or rest during summit day and hike out on the last day.

You run that 4-step risk assessment, and you conclude that there is a significant chance you will compound the problem if you continue to the summit. So, chances are your body will fail you at some point. It may happen when you take a long step over a crevasse, which may result in putting your rope team in an unsafe situation; or it may happen on the hike out as you pass the ranger station as the ranger is running a class on backcountry first aid.

In this example, one person chose to hang out in basecamp and rest until hike-out-day, when they could hike leisurely with help from the group readily available. The other person chose to hike out immediately, and another person in the group volunteered to hike out with them. But neither person chose to continue to the summit and put the rest of the group in harm’s way.

Assessing your risk in the backcountry should be done before, during, and after your adventures. Here at Addictive Adventure, we strive to build products that you don’t have to worry about – a bike rack that you can trust to get you to your adventure, a drift boat kickstand so your craft doesn’t fill with water over the winter, and a line of products designed for adventure.

About Addictive Adventure

With decades of experience designing world-class gear and equipment, our team knows how to find and solve problems. Since we are all users of the products we create, we always are looking for a simple, elegant, and effective solution to every gear-related problem.

We believe in making things locally whenever possible. Since we own our own factory, we know every single product will perform as intended. We also control our delivery performance by building just what our customers want when they want it.

Take a look at the products we have available for you and make your adventure more epic!

Experience Our Great Gear

When heading to your race, you want to make sure your bike makes it in one piece and without damage. You will need to use a quality bike rack. Keep in mind that the one you choose can be the difference between smooth transportation and a moving experience that leaves you overall disappointed with scratches and paint peels on your car.

At Addictive Adventure, we believe in making things locally whenever possible. Since we own our own factory right here in the great Pacific Northwest of the USA, we know every single product will perform as intended.

We have been building stainless steel industrial equipment for over 20 years.  We apply high-quality industrial manufacturing practices to everything we do. Our Bike Rack is built for durability.  100% stainless steel and aluminum construction, so it’s light where you want it and strong where you need it.

Learn More