With the recent search for Annette Poitras fresh in our memory, Coquitlam SAR would like take this opportunity to highlight how backcountry safety applies to dog walkers.
The Tri-Cities (Coquitlam, Port Coquitlam, Port Moody) and adjoining areas of Burnaby, Belcarra and Anmore have been gifted with easy access to wilderness areas – including Eagle, Burke and Burnaby Mountains. Unlike the deep backcountry, few people treat a trail in these areas with the seriousness of a longer hike. Most of the time this is fine, but in Search and Rescue we’re all about being prepared for those rare incidents where you need help.
It might sound like a lot of work when we advise people to leave a trip plan, but for dog walkers this can consist of something as simple as a text, a note, or a post on social media. Let your family, friends or loved ones know where you’re going (trail name) and when you’re expected back.
This is the single most useful piece of information for a SAR group to have if you don’t make it home. Knowing where you intended to walk gives us a head start when locating you. If we don’t have this, it makes the search a lot harder!
- Leave a text or a note with someone
- indicate where you’re going & when you’re expected back
- Use a map to determine the trail name and use it
- If a trail doesn’t have a name, make up your own description – as long as the person who you’re leaving your trip plan with is clear on what trail or location you mean.
- In addition to a trip plan you can take a trailhead selfie; a picture of what you are wearing can help us a lot.
Coquitlam SAR recommends that anyone using a trail, even those that are very close to urban areas, carry a minimum amount of equipment with them at all times.
For hikers we like to list the Ten Essentials which gives us a list of items that are easy to remember. We present the list below to show you how small a pack these items can fit into.
These items are inexpensive, very light, and easy to carry. We know dog walkers are already carrying things like poo bags, leashes, and other dog accessories. Adding a few extra items and a small bag is an easy safety upgrade.
Everything on the list below can fit into a small waist pack like this.
A whistle or some kind of signalling device (a mirror, satellite beacon, cell phone) is used to call for help. It can be heard further than the human voice. SAR members used whistles to search for Annette.
We also have specific directions on how to use your cell phone in the backcountry.
Hikers can also carry radios, or satellite beacons (Inreach or SPOT) that can alert SAR.
Extra clothing like a toque, gloves or a jacket can make a HUGE difference if you need to spend the night out in the cold and rain. You might think that people don’t need to be reminded of this, but they do. We regularly rescue people who are not dressed properly, or prepared for a change in the weather.
A flashlight – either a headlamp or some kind of hand light, and spare batteries. These can make the difference if you’re delayed and it gets dark. The light can help you find your way without getting more lost, it can help prevent you getting more lost or injured, and it can also help you signal for help. As an example, it is very useful to signal a helicopter.
|Food and Water
A little extra emergency food and some water helps you stay warm and staves off dehydration. Water helps you stay cool in hot weather, but it’s less well known that it helps you stay warm in cold weather as well. Food is good fuel for your body, but you also need it for your brain – when you’re low on energy you’re often not able to think clearly or make good decisions.
Waterproof matches & a container are an excellent fire starter, as is a lighter. You can add all sorts of other fire-making tools to this list as well. It can take a bit of practise to get good at starting a fire, but we can tell you it is impossible unless you have something to start the fire in the first place.
Every activity has its tools. Backpackers bring repair tools, skiers take avalanche rescue equipment. Dog walkers take dog-related tools – treats, poo bags, etc.
A Jackknife or multi-tool – helps make repairs to other equipment and can help you start a fire or build a shelter. You probably already have one!
Basic navigation includes a map and a compass, and people should take some time to learn how to use them. We recommend the excellent Tri-Cities Map for our area. It includes all the well travelled trails and trail names which can be important when making your trip plan.
Additional navigation devices such as GPS, or using a smart phone, are also possible.
It’s a good idea to bring simple first aid equipment so you can make it out under your own power. This doesn’t have to be a huge kit. You can include important personal medications if you need them, for example diabetics would include test strips and insulin.
An emergency shelter can make a huge difference if you’re stranded for a night, especially in cold or rainy weather. You can use a large garbage bag, or any number of specially designed “safety blankets”. These double as a signalling device in a pinch. They are extremely light and compact.
Cold and rainy aren’t the only conditions to be prepared for. Sun protection like a hat and sunscreen are just as important to prevent burns, and heat related illnesses.
Every trail user, even those out for a few hours, needs to be prepared for emergencies. Leaving a trip plan and taking a few essential items can make a big difference if you ever need rescue. These items are cheap, light, and easy to carry. The entire list can be purchased from Canadian Tire or Mountain Equipment Co-Op for approximately $100, or you probably have most of these items around your house already.