Risk Management in the Outdoors

Trails in Southern Manitoba are bursting at the seams with new-to-the-outdoors explorers. While it is great that people are going outdoors, I am also concerned because risk management and safety may not be a priority or even on the minds of new hikers. Numbers have spiked in local Facebook hiking groups and many new hikers have little more than crushed limestone, gentle nature trail experience.

As a leader in our local outdoors community and with this blog as one of my platforms, I want to use this space to pass along knowledge that I have gained. This process is also helping me see where I need to grow.

Information on apps and websites such as AllTrails are region specific. As an example, some trails in the Whiteshell are easier than trails in British Columbia but that does not mean that McGillvary Falls, the second loop of Pine Point, and Hunt Lake are easy. They are intermediate to challenging based on Manitoba landscape.

I want to encourage hikers to take the time to research and ask numerous questions about the trail that they are interested in hiking and to not just blindly follow recommendations from Facebook group members. You do not know what you do not know! So ask questions! Safety is ultimately the responsibility of ourselves and no one else. It is important to remember that Manitoba has a diverse landscape and hiking trails are not a one size fits all.

While the outdoors is an amazing place to challenge ourselves, telling someone who has no navigation experience to hike McGillvary Falls with three young children as their first Whiteshell trail is irresponsible. It irks me when I read replies to questions that come from a place of ego instead of taking the time to understand and answer what is really being asked.

Risk management begins with a goal, followed by identifying potential risks that could be encountered, and planning a head of time for what the response will be. For example:

Goal: a day hike to Kinosao Lake in Riding Mountain National Park
Risk: black bears
Management: learn about black bear behaviour, make your presence known by making noise, clean up after yourself, and carry bear spray and know how and when to use it
Evaluate: what course of action while managing the risk did you take? Did you talk aloud to yourself to make noise and pack out all of your garbage? If you saw a bear, what did you do and what would you do differently next time?

Making a plan based on best case scenarios is essentially the same as not having a plan at all. Other risks can include getting lost, hiking with children and / or dogs, and hazardous terrain. Weather, injury, and gear failure are a few more examples of how things can drastically impact a hike. They can cause an easy hike to quickly turn into a challenging one.

This is where the 10 Essentials of Hiking can save you, literally. These items are based on safety and should accompany you in some form while on any level of hiking trail.
• Navigation
• Hydration
• Nutrition
• Sun protection
• Insulation
• Illumination
• First-aid supplies
• Fire starter
• Emergency shelter
• Communication device

When I look back on the training that I took in January of this year to become certified as a Field Leader (Hiking and Winter) with the Outdoor Council of Canada, my favourite part was learning about risk management. I enjoy the problem-solving aspect of it when coordinating and leading a hike. It gives me a confidence boost and I feel empowered because I am prepared to the best of my ability. It’s my goal for the women who hike with me to feel that way too.

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