Safety Considerations

Here is safety information to stay prepared while in the backcountry.

Traveling off-trail in the backcountry comes with a unique set of safety considerations. We are often out of cell service, a few hours from a hospital, and in areas without a lot of people. The people we do encounter are usually foragers, hunters or target shooters, forest service personnel, or outdoor recreationists. While Bark fieldwork occurs in remote parts of Mt. Hood National Forest, we are often closer to a road or our vehicles than you would be on a long day hike or backpacking trip. As a result, we can often access vehicles and get to cell phone service or additional resources (like a hospital) in 1-2.5 hours.

Managing Risk on Field Days 

The best way to deal with potential hazards are to prevent them from occurring by avoiding risks and preparing well. Bark staff plans field days to best avoid unnecessary risks and to give participants the skills, items, and information they need to come prepared for a field day. 

Here are some other ways that Bark prepares for our field days:  

  • Bark’s Programs staff are trained as wilderness first responders, other staff and volunteers have wilderness first aid training 
  • Each survey group is given walkie talkies to be able to communicate with other groups when cell service is unreliable or unavailable 
  • Each group is provided with first aid kits, a whistle, navigation materials (map and compass), and each group usually has one or more group member with a navigation app on their phone 
  • Bark brings a device that triples as a GPS, a satellite texting device (we can text others even without cell service), and a rescue beacon (meaning we can call for an emergency rescue team  without cell service) 
  • We have additional clothing for use like jackets, hats, and rain gear, highlighter yellow vests for hunting safety, extra first aid materials at the car, and car safety kits 
  • Bark’s Programs staff have extensive experience utilizing map and compass and phone navigation tools, so please ask for additional training and/or to be paired with staff or volunteers with backcountry navigation experience if you don’t feel confident with your own navigation skills 

Common safety considerations: 

  • How will the weather affect you throughout the day?
    • If it is hot, make plan to stay cool and protect yourself from too much sun. Some ways to manage this include:
      • Stay in the shade, drink water regularly when you are thirsty, and bring drinks that have electrolytes 
      • Use sunscreen, wear clothing that will protect your skin from the sun like long sleeves, long pants, wide-brimmed hats, or sunglasses 
    • If it is cold or wet, think about how you will stay dry and warm. We recommend:
      • Drinking water when you’re thirsty and eating enough food in the cold and the heat will help you manage your temperature and comfort, stay alert, and give you enough energy to have a great field day. Take the time you need to take care of yourself and have a good day. 
      • Practice managing the layers of clothing you wear to avoid getting too warm or too cold. If you get too warm and sweat through the layer closest to your skin, you can get too cold when you stop for a break. Bring a waterproof jacket and pants, a hat or gloves, and bring extra clothing in waterproof bags and/or keep a change of clothes in the car. 
  • Be mindful of where you step
    • It can be easier to slip or misstep when traveling off-trail, so take your time, think about your next steps, and “test” where you are stepping (put a little bit of weight on your foot or poke the surface with a stick/hiking pole) before you put your whole body weight into that step. Hiking poles help provide stability. 
  • Take care when walking on logs and boulders
    • Utilizing logs and boulders can be a convenient way to travel through the backcountry.  Some safety considerations when doing this are to not travel too high off the ground, test to see if the boulder or log is going to move, and be aware that old, decaying logs may crumble underneath you. 
  • Check if a tree is alive before you lean on it and be aware of falling trees.
    • You should not lean on dead trees. If it is stormy (especially if it is windy) or if you hear a tree creaking, it’s time to stay aware of trees that are swaying and consider whether it’s time to leave the forest. We encourage you to avoid potential accidents. 
  • Wasps and other bug bites.
    • If you have a history of severe allergic reactions and you have a prescription for epinephrin, please bring your epinephrine and any other medication that you use when having an allergic reaction. 
    • If you or one of your group members disturbs a wasp nest, you will notice wasps beginning to swarm. Get out of the area as quickly as is safely possible. These tend to be in piles of sticks/wood, so avoid stepping on those especially late in the summer. 
    • Wear long sleeves and pants to avoid tick bites and do tick checks at the end of the field day especially after wetland surveys. You can treat your clothing with permethrin before going to the woods as insect repellant for ticks and mosquitoes. 
  • Stay at least 6 ft away from cliffs 
  • Hunters and shooting safety
    • Since we frequent areas away from trails and with lots of wonderful wildlife habitat, we also encounter more hunters and target shooters than in more populated parts of the forest. Some basic safety around hunters is to wear blaze orange or other bright clothing so they can see you. If you hear shooting nearby, blow on a whistle (Bark provides these in your packet of gear and lots of backpacks come with whistles on the chest strap) to try and let the hunters know that you are near. If you do encounter a situation where bullets are close to you, lay flat on ground and blow loudly on your whistle. Bark brings signs to put up near our vehicles that notify others who enter the area that a surveys is  taking place to help avoid this situation. 
  • Road conditions
    • In general, driving to survey locations will usually include dirt or gravel roads that often have potholes, washboarding, or plants growing into the road. Dirt and gravel roads are more common as we get closer to our destination. We encourage everyone to drive at a speed you feel comfortable with and to stop if the road gets too rough for your comfort or safety. If we need to stop before reaching the intended destination, we can create a alternate travel plan or destination.
    • If the person leading field day has been to the location you are going to, they will inform you of any rough driving conditions. Since we are often visiting new locations when conducting surveys, the person leading your group will likely not be aware of all of the road conditions.