Make sure you fully understand the risks of adventuring outside and how to navigate sticky situations should they arise.

By Monica Graves

While I’m no expert mountaineer scaling the untouched peaks of distant mountain ranges, I’ve recently come to realize the lack of consensus on what it means to be “prepared” in the backcountry. Even if you’re a weekend warrior like myself, it’s wise to at least ask yourself how you define what it means to be prepared in the event of an emergency.

As I’ve delved deeper into the world of search and rescue, wilderness first responders, and self-rescue, it’s apparent that beyond these skill sets it is imperative to help yourself first and prevent any accidents in the first place.

I’ve compiled a list of simple measures you can take to become more competent and self reliant in the backcountry whether you are climbing, backpacking, or adventuring. However, please note this list is meant to spark a conversation on risk mitigation rather than substitute formal training. Formal training is highly recommended so you can obtain expert guidance on how to make sure you are as prepared as possible for your trip into the great outdoors and how to respond should disaster strike.

Some of these tips might be unnecessary when there is ample cell service and paved roads readily available, but other times they might prove to be something to consider in more remote environments.

Carry water, and lots of it.

I live in a desert and know that water is a must, but no matter where you travel to, it’s vital to always bring extra water. Bonus points for water purification means such as iodine droplets or a filter!

Have the necessary gear to get up and down safely.

If you know the approach is extensive you can scout it out on a rainy day when you won’t be able to (or tempted) climb. It will save you the frustra

tion we all know too well of getting lost on the approach to a climb.

Know your own experience level as well as anyone you are going with.

Familiarize yourself with basic self rescue techniques. Experienced climbers have a knack for securing their chalk bag around their waist with cordelette- that way you never climb without a prusik! If you don’t know what a prusik is or how to use one then reach out to our instruction department at Be sure to practice these techniques too so that it’s a skill you possess and understand rather than simply a class you took.

You must have a first aid kit.

This can be as simple or extensive as you choose. Some common items include bandages, pain medication, multi-tool, whistle, signal mirror (a reflective CD works), spare batteries for a headlamp, and antihistamines for when you get poison oak. (Check out how poison oak changes in appearance with the seasons so you know what to look for)

Don’t forget a compass, GPS, and/or map, when inevitably your phone dies or has no signal*

*In the event of a real emergency you should dial 911 even if your service provider doesn’t show you have signal. If you are within range of another phone carrier they are legally required to accept emergency calls; if there’s not enough service for call to go through, it will still send a ping to the nearest phone tower which can help search and rescue efforts.

Avoid the need for professional help.

Helicopter rides are expensive and incredibly dangerous so avoid them unless there’s a threat of life or limb. When helicopters are not feasible, backcountry rescues are long and require massive manpower that puts everyone involved at risk. Do everything you can to help yourself first before jeopardizing the safety of others.

Stay together.

Don’t leave your partner if they are injured; it is almost always better to signal to send help so that you can stay with the injured person and care for them. Wearing bright colors that make you stand out from the landscape can help in signaling rescue efforts.

Tell someone where you are going and when you will return!

This is always a good idea and we all have that one “mom friend” that would be all too happy to step up to the role. Just be sure to tell your mom friend when you return from your trip to avoid any miscommunications. You can even go above and beyond by leaving a note on the dashboard of your car with a description of the shoes you are wearing including the size and brand!

Join the American Alpine Club!

Seriously, they are an amazing organization that provides endless resources including information, meetups, and countless perks. They have insurance in case you find yourself in a desperate situation requiring a flying taxi to the nearest hospital. They publish extensive accident reports for you to read up on or indulge your dark side on what mistakes not to make. AAC membership also covers lost or stolen gear in case a forest fire levels everything in your campground or someone helps themself to the full trad rack in your back seat. Did I mention AAC members waive Mesa Rim’s own $50 initiation fee when signing up for membership?

Other great resources to check out include American Alpine Institute courses, volunteering with San Diego Mountain Rescue, or if you’d like to read more about how to get involved in local climbing organizations check out this link:


Simply put, it’s better to fully consider the risks you take when you head out to the crag, trail, or mountain. We all know climbing is inherently dangerous, but just being outdoors or away from civilization carries certain risks. Risk mitigation is imperative and it is important to be informed of the environment you enter by determining what level of preparedness you feel is necessary. Even if after you read this you choose to wander off into the desert mid-August without water, shelter, or any means of direction, hey that’s your choice. While I would advise against it, you choose your own informed level of risk management so use your best judgement for the excursion. But please wear sunscreen.