Study Finds Hikers Often Dangerously Underprepared
Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
A study by Brown University researchers found that hikers in New Hampshire’s White Mountain National Forest are often underprepared.
The researchers gauged the readiness by how many of 10 essential items hikers typically brought along for their trek through the rugged terrain. Writing in the journal Wilderness & Environmental Medicine, the team noted that hikers in this area often go out without this equipment, mostly because they do not think it is needed for shorter hikes.
Inexperienced hikers were most likely to lack multiple items recommended by the State of New Hampshire’s HikeSafe program. This state recommends that hikers take a map, a compass, extra clothes, rain gear, a fire starter, a flashlight, extra food and water, a knife, a first aid kit, and a whistle.
“One of the goals of this paper was to figure out where are the gaps, what are people missing, and what are people good at,” said Ryan Mason, lead author of the study.
He and his team surveyed 199 hikers in the summer of 2011 at the heads of three trails of varying difficulty in the national forest. They asked the hikers 22 questions about what gear they were packing, whether they had told others of their hiking plans, and if they had checked the weather. The team found that three out of five hikers brought seven or fewer items, while only 18 percent packed all 10 items.
Mason said he found it encouraging that two out of five hikers were prepared if they brought more than seven of the 10 items, but some of the hikers were still less prepared than others. Only 17 of 57 hikers between the ages 20 to 29 brought the proper items, while over 50 percent of hikers aged 50 to 59 were prepared. The researchers also saw that the most commonly omitted items from the list were the whistle, compass and fire starter.
Mason says further education could help the numbers improve and keep unfortunate injuries and costly search-and-rescue missions to a minimum.
While hiker safety is important, studies have shown how the outdoor activity has been losing popularity, which in turn hurts conservation efforts. A study in 2009 found that as the decline of outdoor endeavors like hiking continues, so does the drop in support for conservation. Researchers from this study linked the amount of time spent hiking or backpacking in nature with a willingness to financially support any of four representative conservation organizations.
They found that the typical backpacker gave $200 to $300 per year to a conservation organization. Foundations see the decline in this once popular outdoor activity as a wake-up call to environmental groups that their base is shrinking.
“If you never get out into nature, you´re not going to care about it when you get older,” said Oliver Pergams, visiting research assistant professor of biological sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “The kids are where it´s at, and we´re losing our kids to other influences — they don´t go outside.”