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Consider survival on any winter trip

December 14, 2016
By JUSTIN A. LEVINE - Outdoors Writer ( , Lake Placid News

Earlier this week, a pair of hikers became lost in the High Peaks and spent two unplanned nights in what can be described as arctic conditions.

The hikers are OK now after forest rangers launched a huge effort to find them, but their survival and relative lack of injuries can serve as a lesson and reminder to those of us who venture into the backcountry.

The two hikers, Madison Popolizio and Blake Alois, despite getting lost, did a few things right. First, they told trusted and responsible family members where they were going and when they expected to be back.

Leaving a detailed itinerary and sticking to it is one of the key things you can do. Don't make a vague mention to a friend about your trip. Tell someone who will be worried enough about you to call for help where you're going. You can give yourself a few extra hours, but make sure to say when you expect to be back so they can call for help if you don't arrive.

Make sure to include the state Department of Environmental Conservation's dispatch number or tell them to call 911 if they don't hear from you by a certain time. While we all worry that a rescue call will go out unneeded, rangers and police would rather find you alive and well at the trailhead parking lot than have to locate you in the woods with no real idea of where you were supposed to be.

Second, Alois and Poplizio were prepared for something to go wrong, and that's likely what saved their lives.

Too many people think that hiking in the Adirondacks only requires shoes and a bottle of water, but from late fall through late spring, the weather here is often far worse than in other parts of the state or surrounding areas.

It is imperative that you carry at least the 10 essentials, if not a little more. Of course, weight is a concern, but being able to survive the night by carrying a slightly heavier pack is a no-brainer in terms of a trade-off.

The 10 essentials are not just 10 individual items, but rather a system of things that should be carried that can help in an emergency situation.

The essentials breaks down into the following categories:



Map, compass, GPS with extra batteries, and the knowledge to use all of them


Sun protection

Sunglasses, hat, sunscreen. Especially in winter, sunglasses or goggles can be vitally important. Snow blindness is a very real and debilitating condition that can make it impossible to carry on.


Hat, gloves, jacket, extra long underwear. Make sure to bring extra of each, and pack them in a water-tight, zip-top bag so they're dry when needed.



Flashlight, headlamp and extra batteries. Carry at least two types of illumination just in case.



Carry a small first-aid kit with gauze, tape, band aids and moleskin, at a minimum.



Have at least two lighters, along with matches in a waterproof container. It also helps to carry some tinder, like dryer lint, peals of birch bark, etc. Keep it all in a water-tight bag.



A knife and multi-tool can you get through or out of a lot of sticky situations, and can help in building a shelter and fire.



Bring more food than you'll need, and make sure it's high in calories. Hiking in the winter burns a lot more energy than summer, and if you're stuck you'll need calories so your body can shiver and keep itself warm.



Carry extra water, especially in winter, and don't wait to drink it. Snow and ice can be melted, but that takes time that you may not have. A small stove can speed the process, but can bring issues of its own. Also, water filters or iodine tablets are cheap and small and worth bringing along.



Throw a small tarp in the bottom of your daypack to use as a wind block and snow shelter. Those silver emergency blankets can be carried, but they don't provide a lot of insulation. They're better used in conjunction with something a little sturdier.



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