Essentials are Not Always What “They” Say They Should Be

Which media channels do you trust?

The news media is not particularly known for its sage advice about outdoor travel. They are, after all, "only journalists", or so it’s been said…

Perhaps we should place our trust in a backpacking magazine that claims to be the authority in backcountry travel. A reasonable enough assumption, I think.

This week, a Montana hunter died of hypothermia. He was on a day trek, got lost, and was forced to spend the night in the wilds. He did not survive because he was ill-prepared for cold conditions.

The article’s author, Scott McMillion, is smart. He’s done his time in the woods and is cautious about his reporting. It’s fair, accurate, and over the past 10 years of reading the Bozeman Chronicle, he has gained as much trust from me as any outdoor news writer anywhere. So when Scott gives advice, it’s usually sound.

But the best advice in this article came from what some may consider an unlikely source: the information officer, Kerry O’Connell, of the local sheriff’s office. Her advice for day hikers:

“Bring extra clothing, maps and firestarting material.”

Obvious enough, right? I mean, with extra clothing and firestarting material, you can survive the coldest night a Montana winter can throw at you.

Contrast this to the anonymously written Start Smart: Hiking Solo:

"Whether you’re an expert or a novice, going alone invites greater risk: help is not guaranteed. Decide what to bring–like a sleeping bag or bivy sack on a long dayhike–by weighing the consequences of not having it against the burden of carrying too much. Extra food, water, and a signaling device (a whistle, signal mirror, or cell phone) are musts." (emphasis mine)

"Musts?" If Gordon Longnecker of Billings could chime in, I think he’d have something to say about that.

O’Connell knows the "musts". Smart lady. And she probably didn’t even have an editor – or two – to review her comments.

Need additional perspective on what might constitute a true "essential" for a winter day hike? Be sure to review the Winter Day Hiking Kit.