OFF-ROAD ESSENTIALS: RISK MANAGEMENT FOR SOLO OVERLANDERS
Going it alone on back country trips offers great experiences. Here are a few pretrip planning tips to ensure you get out – and back again – safely every time.
It’s difficult to coordinate a longterm trip with other people for a few reasons. Sometimes the timing is not right, or some people will opt out at the last minute. Regardless of the excuses, they shouldn’t be any reason to cancel a trip. While it’s often difficult to get together with friends for extended getaways – for whatever the reason – travelling solo is enjoyed by many enthusiasts. However, as there’s always safety in numbers when touring remote areas, here’s how you can get the most out of an overlanding trip by yourself and stay safe at the same time.
The key to successful, safe solo trips is risk management. You have to mitigate the risks by first looking at the potential hazards involved and conduct a risk assessment. It doesn’t have to be complicated and you can start by researching the potential hazards regarding your planned activities and consider those specific to your destination. Be sure to write them down so you can understand how you can manage the risks to an acceptable level.
Here’s how to complete a simple assessment as it can sometimes get complex. Start by creating a table with two columns. The first column should identify the hazards and the second column is for the mitigation measures. As an example, a hazard to plan for during a hike is “trip
and fall.” Mitigation measures could be “wear appropriate hiking boots, bring a first aid kit, or take a wilderness first aid course prior to the trip.”
You can also rate the risks in terms of likelihood (likely or unlikely) and severity (minor injury, major injury or death), but there is no need to conduct a formal assessment as a basic list will give you an idea about the training and equipment required for your adventure. It’s also important to do a risk assessment since overlanding often takes place in remote areas, away from all services. It’s for you to decide how far you want to go and if it makes sense to do the trip by yourself. Just be sure to adjust your trip to the fact that you are alone (and self-reliant) as you will be more vulnerable in some situations.
Before you leave, be sure to share your trip plan with someone reliable so they will know where you are going and when to start worrying about you. You should both agree on a safety buffer so that search and rescue teams do not get a call because of a delay in your scheduled check-in.
Once you are on your adventure, you must maintain situational awareness (be aware of your surroundings) and look at a situation with an objective eye. Perhaps ask yourself these questions: “What are my risks?”; “Can I manage them or are they out of my control?”; or “What is my risk tolerance or how much risk is acceptable to me?
This is your dynamic risk assessment
and include it in your daily activities as you cannot possibly plan for all situations during the trip planning stage.
Your judgment is what will keep you safe so maintaing a cool head if something goes wrong, is critical. When confronted with a challenging situation, remember to S.T.O.P., which stands for Stop, Think, Observe and Plan. This is not only the best advice to follow if you get lost, but it’s applicable to many situations. You are on your own and there is nobody else to brainstorm ideas – sometimes it’s a good thing as we tend to take more risks when we are in a group. Take your time and think things through.
Consider this one last tip: know when it’s time to turn around. If you can’t, then back up on the trail. There is no shame in turning around when you don’t have anyone to help you get out of that mud pit. When I was on my solo trip in Gaspésie, QC, last year, I backed up on a trail in the Chic-Chocs for a few minutes because I didn’t feel like spending the evening in a mud pit. I preferred to safely return to my campsite and end the day with a cold beer next to a campfire.
Quite simply, it all comes down to being aware of the risks involved by completing a simple risk assessment during the trip planning stage, maintaining situational awareness while you are on your adventure, and being prepared should a hazard manifest itself – there’s always a good chance that it will!
Remote gravel road.
Chic Chocs Trail. Gaspesie Bridge.
Map and compass.