Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Stay With the Car

Every year in my part of the country, we hear tragic tales of tourists getting stranded and dying (or coming close) before they're found. If you're in the backcountry and your vehicle becomes disabled, what do you do?

The instinctive reaction from most folks is to leave the vehicle and try and hike out. This is one of the worst things you can do, and I'm going to tell you why:

Your car is easier to find than you.
A single human can very easily get lost, and is much harder to locate. Viewed from above, I occupy probably 3 square feet and have a matte finish; my truck occupies well over 100 square feet and is reflective. Additionally, I can only yell so loud and so often, whereas the horn on a vehicle carries further and can be used over a much longer time.

Your vehicle is a pretty good shelter. 
It will keep you dry in a storm, and if the engine runs you have some measure of climate control. Since most of these incidents seem to happen either in winter storms or desert environments, being able to keep warm or cool is a huge thing. You will also be more comfortable in your vehicle, sleeping better and keeping your wits more firmly about you.

Your vehicle also has all of your gear. 
If you leave your car, you have to leave substantial quantities of supplies that you may need. You can only carry about 25% of your body weight over any kind of distance, and that is with a proper pack. Loaded correctly and planning ahead, I can carry about 50 pounds; that sounds like a lot of weight, but keep in mind that a gallon of water weighs 8 pounds, and a gallon is about a day's supply under serious exertion! In the event that you're abandoning a vehicle, the odds of proper load-bearing gear being available are quite low, so that 50 pound capacity might fall to as low as 20 pounds.

If you stay with your vehicle, though, you have all of your gear at hand. You don't have to leave something potentially important behind because you have no way to carry it, or carry items you don't need on the off-chance that you might need them.

None of this applies if staying with your vehicle is a hazardous situation. 
Remaining in the path of a flood, or in an avalanche area, or with a dangerously damaged vehicle is a very bad plan. No matter how useful or easy to find your vehicle is, it's worthless if you're killed by a dangerous situation.

You may need to try to get yourself out of being stuck, but it should be your last resort, not your first.


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