We have found that most folks are nervous on their first big camping trip – and we have seen a lot of “first trips.”
Fortunately, studies show that the concerns are unjustified. While no one can guarantee safety – outdoor programs included – we can dramatically mitigate our risk by thorough and effective staff training, standard safety policies, and the right equipment. Programs that follow similar standards around the nation end up being among the safer recreational activities available for adolescents. Extensive data has been collected about safety on trips. We know, to the hour, times of day that result in the most injuries. We also can rank our activities against others. In one game of football, your average adolescent is 93 times more likely to be injured than in an entire day of backpacking. And even sitting at home in the summer, your average adolescent is twice as likely to go to the emergency room than they are while enrolled on programs like ours.
Our staff typically arrive a week before our first trip goes out. We cover a wide variety of training during this time, and also familiarize them with our policies and procedures. They are tested on policy early on in the training, allowing us to focus on areas that require additional education. We cover safe travel techniques, proper equipment use, self care, health and nutrition, and emotional wellness. We also share national data with our staff that show times in a trip, or even in a given day, that typically result in the most injuries.
Groggy staff in the morning (generally trying to boil water for coffee) are significantly more likely to be injured than at any other time in the day, and it typically is a result of burns from boiling water. The highest injury rate in a given day tends to occur around 4:00 pm. And “transition times” between activities, eating and travel, or at a gas station while driving to a trail head remain some of the riskiest times for injury.
Our training emphasizes scenarios and drills in realistic settings. Rather than discuss nutrition in a vacuum, we make different meals and assess how they will help people’s energy levels or hydration. Instead of just talking about how we would carry out a canoe rescue, we get out into the cold lake. High-risk situations are rare in the field, and when they occur people are often taken by surprise. Scenarios help us ensure that our staff can react quickly and appropriately.
We also maintain standards while in-season to encourage safety. We screen your medical forms for potential risks to be aware of. Most days of scheduled hiking are modest, which ensures that there is time to accommodate schedule changes imposed by weather or other factors. Staff are also trained to teach risk management and judgment to participants, so that they can participate in maintaining their own safety.
THE RIGHT EQUIPMENT
We have designed our gear organization system in a way that lets us track how much time equipment spends out in the field, so we can retire it before it ages too much. Everything is checked as it comes in, and before it goes out. Checklists for gear maintenance and repair are included with every critical piece of equipment – water filters, tents, stoves, and similar – and everyone is taught to use it regardless of their prior experience. Things still go wrong (where would the stories come from if they didn’t?), but the result is typically discomfort instead of danger.
OUR FIRST AID KITS
Equipment is no good if people do not know how to use them. We designed our first aid kits with that premise in mind. Every major trip we run has a Wilderness First Responder on the leadership team, and our first aid kit and medical policies stem directly from their 80 hour training.
Every professional outdoor organization maintains its own standards of safety policies. We consider those, Michigan state laws, and the context of the environments we travel through when developing our own policies. We keep them posted and available in our office for trips staff to review, and review them annually to maintain an awareness of standards in the industry.
If you have more questions on safety, feel free to contact us at email@example.com