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Backpacking health risks?
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Bill Segraves
(sbill9000) - F - M
Re: Backpacking health risks? on 05/10/2013 18:19:28 MDT Print View

I find this a fascinating topic - risk assessment is a complex and very interesting topic, both from a psychological and from a quantitative perspective. We tend not to to do it very well, unless we have rigorous metrics, and as others have pointed out, the relevant statistics are as often abused as properly used. The page that Buck cited looks like a very nice attempt to break down the frequencies of fatal back-country events. IMO, it provides a pretty clear picture of the things one has to avoid to stay safe. The main thing I'm wondering after reading this summary is what proportion of the people were day-hikers and what proportion were multi-day backpackers. It has seemed to me for several years that most of the fatalities I hear about are among day-hikers, and it kind of makes sense. If I get lost backpacking, the biggest risk is that I'll worry someone by not getting out when planned. If a dayhiker gets lost and doesn't know how to create shelter, it can easily be fatal. I may also be wrong, but it's also my impression that it's usually dayhikers who have most of the worst falls (maybe it's just because there are more of them, or maybe the reporting's clearer).

It can often be pretty trick to compare hiking risks to other risks, especially when there aren't clear data on the frequencies of events. I've often said that the drive to the trailhead is the most dangerous part, but is it really? It probably depends on where I'm backpacking. If I drive 1000 miles roundtrip, then my chance of dying from the trip is on the order of 1/100,000. I have no idea what most of the annual risks mean in the besthealthdegrees chart (were those people out for 5 days/year or 100?), but if the McKinley mountaineering data are to be believed, then a 10 day trip there gives me about 1/1000 risk (~ 100 times more than a 1000 mile drive). On well-traveled, gentle sections of the AT, my chances of dying from an accident are probably lower than they are on a typical non-hiking day. If I'm solo in some rugged true wilderness, it might be closer to the McKinley stats.

What seems most clear to me personally, though, is that the biggest risk associated with backpacking is not doing it. Other than motor vehicle-related risks, falls, and poisoning (the big three accidental causes), almost all of the biggest risks are non-communicable disease risks that are reduced by getting out and getting moving.


Bill S.

Ryan Bressler
(ryanbressler) - F
Calcium Loss on 05/10/2013 18:20:49 MDT Print View

On a serious note, exercise (sweat) induced calcium loss is a long term effect not many are aware of. Supplements aren't a bad idea.

My mom used to hike a ton but had to stop backpacking after her bones became weak and she broke an arm hitting a tenis ball. Obviously an anecdotal story that doesn't show a link but sweating has been documented to increase calcium loss and there are few times I sweat as much as hiking up mountain passes.

Kevin Burton
(burtonator) - F

Locale: norcal
Re: Water is #1 Backpacking Health Risk on 05/12/2013 11:50:51 MDT Print View

They REALLY need a better way to prevent stupid people from killing themselves at Vernal Falls ...

I think a more SIGNIFICANT call to action like "if you cross this line you're going to die"

Kevin Burton
(burtonator) - F

Locale: norcal
Re: Calcium Loss on 05/12/2013 11:58:47 MDT Print View

As an aside, regular blood tests are a good idea for anyone interested in fitness.

I have to go back. I get tests ever 3-6 months.

I've found out LOTS about myself this way.

- I'm prone to anemia
- I have postural orthostatic tachychardia syndrom
- prone to low blood pressure

You can run a complete blood count. Testosterone levels. Iron, etc.

If you're female, a vegetarian, don't eat red meat often, or do a lot of jogging - you need to pay attention to anemia and your complete blood count.

... a few other things.

Do you know your resting heart rate? This is a GOOD measure of how much stress your body is under and how much recovery you need. Professional athletes have heart rate monitors they sue to detect their heart rate variability to determine if they need to rest.

I've used this do determine if I am having issues with altitude and how over taxed I am (vs if I'm just being a wimp).

You MAY have some minor health issues that are holding you back. By paying attention and talking to your doctor often you can find them.

Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Little or no Risks on 05/12/2013 13:57:52 MDT Print View

If one hikes based on their skill and experience (each trip matched to these), there is almost no risk.

Of course there is the chance of an accident -- especially if you are in over your head -- which skilled and experienced hikers don't do.


We can sit at home and worry about the risks -- akin to sitting at home and waiting to die; or we can get out into the wilderness and live our lives.

Edited by ngatel on 05/12/2013 15:59:00 MDT.

Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - F

Locale: Santa Rosa, CA
Snakes. on 05/13/2013 13:42:32 MDT Print View

The other day I stepped over (and nearly stepped on) a baby rattlesnake crossing the trail. I didn't even notice until my friend behind me pointed it out.

Edited by justin_baker on 05/13/2013 21:38:56 MDT.

Andrew Martin
(am1982) - M

Locale: PacNW
falls/slips biggest danger on 05/25/2013 16:01:36 MDT Print View

While not directly related to hiking/backpacking the Accidents in North American Mountaineering books and the statistical breakdowns from 1951 to 2007 make for interesting reading. Slips/falls on rock are the leading cause of death followed by slips and falls on snow/ice. Avalanches are surprisingly far down the list.

Exposure to falls seems to be the #1 killer in the backcountry if the other data in the thread are valid.

Stats tables:

Tom Kirchner
(ouzel) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest/Sierra
Re: Little or no Risks on 05/25/2013 16:32:29 MDT Print View

"Of course there is the chance of an accident -- especially if you are in over your head -- which skilled and experienced hikers don't do."

+1 with the caveat that in the life of almost every experienced hiker comes that time when sh!t happens. ;o)

Ben 2 World
(ben2world) - MLife

Locale: So Cal
Little or No Risks = Little or No Gain on 05/25/2013 19:05:28 MDT Print View

"Of course there is the chance of an accident -- especially if you are in over your head -- which skilled and experienced hikers don't do."

Hmmm... methinks that begs the question how skilled and experienced hikers get that way?? Sure, we can learn from others. But we also learn by taking risks -- by being over our head. The trick is to balance between pushing ourselves some -- but not too much -- to enhance our knowledge and skills -- but still be around to put them to good use in future trips. :)

Edited by ben2world on 05/25/2013 21:01:54 MDT.

peter vacco

Locale: no. california
Re: Little or No Risks = Little or No Gain on 05/25/2013 22:28:08 MDT Print View

Ben is so right.
Alexander McCandles died in alaska most likely because he hitch hiked there. if he had of walked to alaska, he would have along the way learned the difference between break up and run off, and thusly he would have know what he was facing when he tried to egress and the river was in flood stage.

that's my spin on his loss.


Pete Staehling
(staehpj1) - F
There are risks no matter what you do... on 05/26/2013 07:43:42 MDT Print View

...but backpacking in likely to be no more risky than daily life at home and work depending on your individual lifestyle and choices.

Daniel Fish

Locale: PDX
... on 05/26/2013 08:39:55 MDT Print View


Edited by on 06/08/2013 19:04:48 MDT.

Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Re: Little or No Risks = Little or No Gain on 05/28/2013 17:34:11 MDT Print View

"Hmmm... methinks that begs the question how skilled and experienced hikers get that way??"

Probably by hiking a lot and being observant on every hike to learn about wild places.

Skill is developed by doing something over and over.

Marko Botsaris
(millonas) - F - MLife

Locale: Santa Cruz Mountains, CA
Re: stats on bc deaths on 05/28/2013 21:20:02 MDT Print View

"Actually falls are one of my biggest fears, especially on solo trips. "

In 2005, my buddy apparently slipped and fell a short distance, probably while trying to get water out of a stream in the Sequoia NP, but he hit his head on a rock, ended up face down in the water without me to pull him out, and drowned. So I guess a very unlucky combo of #1 and #3.

Made worse in that I planned the trip, but was not able to go at the last minute because I was too ill. I drove him to the trail head, and reported him missing when he didn't show up. He was in an area very near where folks take their 10 year olds on their first backpacking trip, about 7-8 miles from the road with designated camping areas and so on, but no one saw him slip. So I definitely worry about falling all the time. I usually go solo and have a fused ankle. Definitely tends to focus ones attention when scrambling and alone.

Edited by millonas on 05/28/2013 23:15:02 MDT.

Jay Wilkerson
(Creachen) - MLife

Locale: East Bay
Backpacking Health Risks? on 05/28/2013 22:12:05 MDT Print View


Rattlesnakes are always a hazard on the trail! Just be smart on how you approach and avoid them.