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A Checklist to Having Fun and Staying Safe in the Wilderness

Land of Hidden Waters | Jonny Bierman

Leigh McAdam is a Calgary-based travel blogger, award-winning photographer, and two-time author with a passion for adventure, nature, and the outdoors. She loves unsung places not seen on Instagram. You can find her at HikeBikeTravel.com.

There are a few key elements to remember in order to ensure a safe experience while exploring the Cariboo Chilcotin Coast, British Columbia, and beyond. Before leaving home, you must educate yourself about the risks of your planned adventure and go prepared. This ensures not only the best possible adventure experience for yourself, but also reduces strain on the places you visit.

The 3 T’s – Trip Planning, Training & Taking the Essentials

The Cariboo Chilcotin Coast is a diverse landscape with oftentimes unpredictable weather, plentiful wildlife, rugged terrain, and large distances between communities. It pays to put some thought into trip planning.

Before you go, plan your travel route so you know, for example, where you can top up the gas tank. Understand the terrain and conditions you’ll encounter, check the weather, and fill out a trip plan so someone knows where you’re headed and when you’re due back.

Train for the trip. Learn the skills and acquire the knowledge you need before you start the trip. Know your limits – whether that be how far you can hike in a day or whether you’re comfortable camping in the wilderness – and stay within them.

Take the essentials and know how to use them. Think of them as the most important items you need to put in your pack or car for any outing. You will certainly use some of them like sunscreen and water on regular non-epic outings. But in the unlikely event that things go wrong, they could literally be lifesavers and allow you to survive a night or two outdoors.

The essentials include the following:

  • Headlamp or flashlight with extra batteries
  • Fire making kit
  • Extra clothing, including rain gear
  • Extra food and water, and a means of purifying it
  • Pocket knife
  • Sun protection including sunscreen, lip protection and sunglasses
  • An emergency blanket or shelter
  • A first aid kit
  • Navigation and communication devices like cellphones, paper maps, compass and/or a GPS. (Most of Cariboo Chilcotin Coast region has little to no cell phone service and a device like an inReach is ideal to bring along)

Don’t forget to include the equipment necessary for the activity you have planned. Consider the season and the location.

For more information, visit AdventureSmart and check out their Trip Planning app and online manual below.

Plan Your Trip

Two girls near picnic table with camping gear

Williams Lake | Ollie Jones

Choosing an adventure

A little research on your part can go a long way towards choosing an adventure – whatever that looks like – that blends your wishes with your skillset. Where do you want to go and is your dream a realistic one? Do you know how far you can walk in a day in the mountains? On a rough trail? On no trail?

Float plane over the water

Jacobson Lake | Tyler Cave

Booking a guided adventure with a local business can help to alleviate many pressures of the trip-planning process, in addition to creating an even higher-value experience. Arranging your overnight stay with a private accommodator also allows you to ask your host about other attractions in the area, get updates on features or conditions that haven’t yet been published online, and learn about common mistakes of previous guests!

Be sure to check out sites online with authority, including BC Parks and Rec Sites & Trails BC. No matter where you plan to go, be sure to leave a copy of your itinerary with a trusted family member or friend – especially if you are planning a solo trip. What is your return date, and when should someone start searching for you? If you are planning to stay at a private accommodation option after your adventure, be sure to call ahead to provide them with the same information and your expected time of arrival.

It would be useful for all adventurers travelling to remote locations to carry either a SPOT, inReach, or Zoleo Satellite Communicator. This holds especially true for solo travellers. You can rent these from places like Mountain Equipment Coop (MEC) or purchase them easily. You should also know how to use the device, try it before you leave home, and be sure you have an active service plan!

Beautiful wilderness scenery in Tweedsmuir Provincial Park

Beautiful wilderness scenery in Tweedsmuir Provincial Park | Leigh McAdam

Safety in the Backcountry

When you’re travelling in the backcountry and in most of the Cariboo Chilcotin Coast region, it’s important to know that your cell phone won’t be very useful most of the time, if at all. There isn’t a lot of cell phone coverage in the area, Wi-Fi is spotty, and many businesses you might be visiting have limited internet services. It is extremely important that you call ahead and let someone know your estimated time of arrival, and carry a map or paper copy of your route to avoid getting lost without service!

Before you go, take note of the emergency numbers for the area you will be visiting. Some important numbers for our region are listed below.

Harmful human-wildlife contact is extremely rare, but visitors should be prepared for the possibility of encountering wildlife (more on this in our wildlife and environment guide). Please report human-wildlife conflict to the conservation officer service; you can also help us keep our wilderness intact by reporting any suspected poaching or polluting. Conservation Officer Services to report human-wildlife conflict: 1-877-952-7277

If you encounter a wildfire, you can help keep people safe by reporting it. Report a Wildfire: 1-800-663-5555 or *5555 for mobile phones.

  • Police, Fire, Ambulance for most of BC*, 911
  • Bella Coola Police, 1-250-799-5363
  • Bella Coola Ambulance, 1-800-461-9911
  • Ambulance from a satellite phone, 250-374-5937
  • Ambulance, if 911 does not work* 0, ask for the operator

*911 does not work in some areas, such as Bella Coola and backcountry areas.

Before you head out

Throughout the entire region, you’ll find that the distances between communities is much greater than in the southern part of the province. Gas up whenever you can and check ahead to determine the location of the next service station. It’s never a bad idea to carry an extra jerrycan of fuel, just in case!

Before you go anywhere, check the local weather forecast. Before you head out, try to determine both road and trail conditions as some trails and access routes may be closed for seasonality and/or weather conditions. BC Parks, Rec Sites & Trails BC and DriveBC are reliable sources for updated information. Most passenger vehicles (sedans, minivans, small SUV’s) come with “P load range tires” (up to 50 LBS tire) however, out here locals use a minimum of “D load range tires” which carry up to 80 LBS of pressure to avoid rock cuts.

It is highly recommended that you download, activate, and fill in the AdventureSmart TripPlan App so your loved ones are in the know before you go as well. You can also fill it in via their intuitive web browser feature.

Wildlife in the Cariboo Chilcotin Coast

It’s always a thrill to encounter wildlife on an adventure, though preferably from a distance. This region is home to a diverse range of wildlife, including black and grizzly bears, moose, wolves, deer, caribou, bighorn sheep, wild horses, coyote, fox, lynx and, more rarely, wolverines and cougars.

Grizzly Bear

Note the hump – indicating that this is a grizzly bear | Leigh McAdam

Most wild animals want nothing to do with you. Make them aware of your presence and give them space to move away. Respect them.

When you’re travelling through bear country, ALWAYS carry a can of easy-to-access bear spray that is no more than three years old. Don’t stick it in the bottom of your pack – have it on your belt or waist strap. You should know how and when to use it! (Again, we go in-depth on being prepared for and what to do when encountering wildlife in our wildlife and environment guide).

Food or anything with a scent like toothpaste and deodorant left outside of your camper or inside your tent will always pose a problem for wildlife. Store them in a secured area. That’s easy if you’re travelling in a car or RV. Camping requires more thought.

Most campgrounds in bear country offer metal bear-proof boxes or poles for hanging your food. A waterproof bag for your food and a couple of carabiners are useful additions. If you must improvise, a long piece of rope thrown over a pole or tall tree should do the trick in the wilderness. A portable bear canister, available at sporting goods stores or online, is another great option. If there are no trees to hang your food, bury it under a cairn or rocks – as a last resort.

Navigation

If you’re planning on a wilderness adventure in the Cariboo Chilcotin Coast, then you or someone in your group should be comfortable with navigation and orienteering. A paper map, a compass, and a GPS are all useful tools, but it’s important you know how to use them. There are useful hiking apps too like maps.me and AllTrails, but keep in mind there may be no cell service in your area or your battery might die.

If you have concerns about navigation, consider taking a course or spend time watching YouTube videos, learning the essentials of map reading and how to use a GPS. Be sure your GPS is charged. If you are planning to be out in the wilderness for many days, take a backup battery or two and a large plastic bag to protect your map and/or GPS. If you don’t own a GPS or other navigation device, consider buying or renting one for your trip.

Don’t overpack!

As a rule of thumb, your loaded backpack should not weigh more than 20% of your weight. With a day pack, aim for about 10% of your body weight. For example, a 150-pound (68 kg) person should plan to carry no more than 30 pounds (13.6 kg) backpacking and 15 pounds (6.8 kg) on a day outing.

The numbers don’t work in every situation – especially if you’re heading out on a long multi-day adventure. But it should make you pause and reflect on the necessity of every piece of clothing and gear you pack. If you get serious, you can weigh everything – but still take the 10 essentials.

Consider testing your loaded pack before you commit to any adventure. See how it feels from both the weight and comfort perspective. The pack should fit you well and be comfortable for many hours. Shoulders and hips are the common pain points.

Man carrying a heavy backpack

A fully loaded pack should be comfortable for many hours | Leigh McAdam

What to wear

In the Cariboo Chilcotin Coast, there is incredible geographic and weather diversity. Dress in layers to account for varying temperatures.

In wet weather, especially in the coastal regions, hypothermia is a concern. Never wear cotton; instead, choose clothing that wicks moisture like polyester, polypropylene, and merino wool. Take full rain gear with you, including rain pants, a rain jacket, and a hat with a brim. And importantly – take good footwear suitable for your activity that are properly broken in.

Now go have fun in the Cariboo Chilcotin Coast!

There’s a lot to consider when you head off on a wilderness adventure, especially if you haven’t got much experience. Start small with weekend trips. Choose easy-to-access, well-signed areas and build your confidence from there. Join a tour with accredited wilderness guides and learn all you can from them. In no time, you will be having fun in these wild places and doing it safely.

Download this infographic to your computer or phone & use it for future adventures!

Wilderness tips