Let’s talk about slackpacking and general hiking safety.
This post is NOT to shame or blame anyone but is being relayed as a helpful cautionary reminder. Slackpacking is a fun word for when a backpacker elects to treat a section of trail like a day hike, carrying little to no weight/gear for that section. This allows them to generally move a lot faster and cover more miles. It’s also sometimes done when a hiker is recovering from overuse or injury. The hiker does this by arranging for their pack to be delivered to them at the end of the day’s hike. Safety precautions are just as important for a slackpacked section as any hike.
There are 10 Essentials you should have on you at all times, no matter the length of your INTENDED hike, as your intentions can go awry and put you in a bad place if unprepared. https://www.rei.com/learn/expert-advice/ten-essentials.html
• Shelter – this can be a simple tarp, your tent’s footprint, or emergency blanket
• Food – more than what you expect to eat that day
• Water – more than you expect to consume that day. consider bringing a water treatment method
• Illumination – headlamps are awesome! PLEASE don’t count on your phone as a flashlight!
• First aid – including foot care and insect repellent
• Clothing/layer – at least something for wind/rain
• Navigation – map & compass, GPS device, or personal locator beacon. Don’t depend solely on your phone!
• Knife – and what you might need to repair gear
• Sun protection – sunglasses, sunscreen, sun-protective clothes sunscreen
• Firestarter – matches, lighter, tinder and/or stoveIt’s essential to communicate clearly with your shuttle driver. Make sure you understand exactly where you’re hiking for the day and where you intend to meet up.
A clear itinerary needs to be discussed between you and the person handling your stuff. Verify the direction you’re headed before you begin, it is easy to get turned around once you start jumping on and off the trail.
Here’s a recent situation that went from awesome to anxious in a matter of hours:
The other day, an Appalachian Trail thru-hiker arranged for a shuttle driver to slack her for a 16-mile section of trail and a 3-mile blue blaze to a popular campground. This is not uncommon. During the day, the hiker checked in with the shuttle driver a couple of times and was on track for a scheduled arrival of 5:30 pm. The driver was at the campground at the agreed-upon time. There was no cell service at the campground (also not uncommon). The hiker didn’t arrive as expected and by 6:30, the driver got a little worried and began hiking the blue-blazed trail backward in hopes of meeting up with the hiker. After a mile, the shuttle driver turned around, returned to the car, and drove to an area with cell service. From there, she texted the hiker to see if everything was ok.
Suddenly a flood of messages comes in. It seems she didn’t take the blue blaze trail due to confusing the name of a nearby mountain with the campground destination. Then when she got to the top of that mountain and saw no signs of a campground, she became lost. She didn’t think to backtrack to the last gap (this is very typical “lost person behavior”) but instead searched for the nearest road crossing further north, which happened to be 10 trail miles away. At this point, it was about 7:30 pm. The shuttle driver texted her they’ll meet at the road, but there were other closer options on side trails. The hiker never got those texts but was able to send out location updates from her InReach. (the InReach operates on GPS, not cell reception)Concerned, the shuttle driver parked at a closer gap with a side trail and began hiking SOBO to find her hiker. Because it was getting dark and she wasn’t prepared to night hike, the driver turned around after 1.5 miles.
Thinking that because she would be arriving at a road, she could flag someone down or call someone, the hiker told her driver to leave and deliver her stuff the next day. The driver knew the area well and realized the hiker would not have any such luck due to no cell service and that it was a forest service road deep in the forest, so she remained engaged and on a mission to find the hiker. Finally, they were able to personally meet up at 11:45pm!
The hiker had done 29.5mi in 16.5hrs, after starting at 7 am. Because she had been expecting an easy day, she carried barely any layers, only 1L of water, and a few snacks. Since she was slacking, she had no shelter or other necessities and had become resigned to probably having to stay the night outside. Please recall this story as a reminder whenever you go set out for a hike. So many things can happen without proper steps being taken prior.
This post is NOT to shame or blame anyone but is being relayed as a helpful cautionary reminder.
• verify your route and meet up location
• know that iMessage and Facebook Messenger require a very good cell signal to get through! Texts require less signal but still …
• don’t assume your text messages will go through
• identify your potential bailout points
• carry your basic 10 essentials even when slackpacking