Before you pack gear for your activity, it helps to know as much as possible about your destination. By destination, I mean both the main destination and the means of getting there. Knowing details about the environment can be a great aid as to what should be packed and what can be left behind. Lots of destinations provide free pamphlets, toll free phone numbers or even very helpful information on the Internet. Of course if you know somebody who has recently been to your planned destination you can ask them questions about their experience also. Somebody who went to your planned destination 20 years ago may provide some helpful information but lots of things change in 20 years so be careful about using information from an experience 20 years ago.
Another very good source of information which should be included with your preparation and which enhances your overall experience is to chat with the locals. Perhaps you are in the vicinity of your destination and you have already contacted a park ranger or did some reading about your destination and as you arrive you may be stopping for gas or a bite to eat before starting on your hike or camping trip. Take time to ask questions to the local people as often they may be aware of recent situations or developments which may help make your trip more enjoyable. For instance, if you plan on doing a jeep tour and after 200 miles you are to reach a beautiful camping spot but you learn from the locals that the camping spot was destroyed the night before in a fire or a flood; then you have saved yourself from a lot of inconvenience. Sometimes the locals can even provide information about special deals that can save you money.
So lets consider a few things to know about before you go--------------------------------------
TERRAIN: Will you be in a sandy or rocky area, wet or dry area, steep hills or gentle slopes, lots of water, will the water be - streams, rivers, lakes or ponds, well vegetated area or lacking in vegetation, are there services available such as gas, stores, phone or food within the area you will be visiting? If you know what kind of terrain you will be traveling, this can make a huge difference of knowing that you have a vehicle that can handle such terrain or if your medical condition and equipment are suitable for the terrain.
CLIMATE: Will you be visiting an area with a rapidly changing climate, a seasonal changing climate or a consistent year around climate?
PLANTS: Are there plants that you should learn about which can be used for food, medicine or just something pretty for pictures? If you enjoy eating wild edible plants have certain areas been sprayed recently with insecticides? Caution-if you are going to use plants, know your plants very well before touching or consuming them. Some plants are poisonous and some can be irritants. In fact, some plants have poisonous look-a-likes. If you are not absolutely sure, leave it alone.
MAPS: Do you have a current map of the area to be visited? Do you understand how to use a map and compass? Perhaps part of knowing before you go may include taking a map and compass class.
CURRENT WEATHER CONDITIONS: Although you may have learned about the climate and terrain before visiting the area, usually rangers post current weather conditions. It is really valuable to know the current weather conditions for the day and what are the expectations for the day because sometimes they are not the norm for that season. It is always an excellent idea to check the current and expected weather conditions for the day before heading out on your adventure.
POSSIBLE RISKS: This may include trails that are potentially hazardous to people with certain health conditions or not recommended for children or pets. Or roads that are not recommended for certain types of vehicles. Extreme forest fire potential or flash flooding conditions. Knowing about these and other potential risks before heading out on your adventure could save you from some inconveniences or save your life.
RECOMMENDED EQUIPMENT: Once you know about the terrain, climate, current weather conditions, possible risks, animals, maps, plants and seasonal details, and you've checked with local authorities and citizens, you may be advised to carry certain types of equipment. Perhaps an extra container of water because a well that is normally on the trail has dried up. Of course, after knowing the above conditions before you go you'll most likely be able to select equipment that you are comfortable with and you know how to operate well. You're well advised to have a First Aid Kit as part of your equipment wherever you plan on traveling.
Remember-BEING INFORMED ON THESE ABOVE POINTS CAN SAVE YOU FROM AN INCONVENIENCE OR SAVE YOUR LIFE!
Readers are invited to share your experiences of when you have learned that "knowing before you go" would have saved you inconveniences or other problems. Feel free to comment below or send me an email. Also, website links illustrating the above points are welcome to be shared.
Next blog, I'll be elaborating on RULE 2: LET SOMEBODY ELSE KNOW