Prepare for the Worst

Stormy Weather Over Lake Chelan

Weather can quickly become hazardous.

Okay, you gave the hike or backpacking trip a lot of thought, and planned everything out. The weather’s good, everyone feels good, the trail condition is good. What can possibly go wrong?

Everyone (you’re in a group, right?) plans on making it back safely, and will have good stories to tell about the trip for years to come.

Think again.

Consider the Worst-Case Scenario

You may be in trouble if that’s all you planned for. Most of the time, things work out just great. But consider what happens if things go bad.

hypothermia– A physical condition where a person’s body core temperature drops below that required for the body to function normally.


What would happen if the weather took a turn for the worst? It happens in the mountains, frequent enough that those who live in mountainous areas never take the weather for granted. What you see may not ultimately be what you get.

The weather forecast should only be used as a general planning guideline. The actual weather is what’s coming down on your head at any point in time.

So, what if no one brought adequate bad-weather clothing? What if you or members of your group start to get cold and wet? Inadequate preparation can easily make a hike not just miserable, but downright deadly. Hypothermia becomes real, not just hypothetical.

You’ll learn more about hypothermia on the upcoming Get Warm page.

Physical or Health Issues

What if someone begins to develop a foot blister? Not really life-threatening, but consider the ramifications if you’re three miles out, and you have three miles to walk back. A simple blister could possibly develop into a real handicap, and the affected person would certainly slow the group down.

Do you have blister prevention items in your first-aid kit? Do you even have a first-aid kit? If not, someone could have long ordeal ahead of them.

What if someone misses a step on an uneven trail surface and badly sprains an ankle or knee? The injured person may have to wait in place until search and rescue can respond. What if that requires spending the night? Do you have emergency shelter, a flashlight, or any extra food? If you don’t, it will be a long night.

Rock Cainr Trail Marker

Piles of rocks known as "cairns" sometimes mark hard-to-follow trails.

Trail Condition

What if the trail isn’t quite what you expected. It was okay for about the first mile, but once out of the trees and in the rocky areas it started getting really hard to follow. Now you’re at a point where you don’t really know if you’re on the right trail or not.

You remember that pile of rocks someone made at what looked like a trail junction, and you assumed the rock pile was there to point out the official trail. Now you’re wondering if someone made the rock pile to point out an unauthorized side trail to where…?

Now all you want to do is start heading back and get out of there. It’s getting really scary, because you’re not really sure how to go back, the trail doesn’t look the same going back as it did going forward, and it’s starting to get late. You’re thinking you should have been checking the map with the compass. Hopefully you have a map and compass…

Preparing for the worst…

…takes some extra planning and consideration, and means you have to carry some extra gear. You may never use any of it, but the one time you need it, you’d better have it. So…we now begin a discussion of the Ten Essentials.