Too many folks these days are getting lost or hurt in the local hills. We go into nature to enjoy the natural world, perhaps to seek solitude and quiet, and to get refreshed. Most of us expect to get back home safely. But that doesn’t always happen due to a number reasons, among them unexpected bad weather, various types of accidents and unanticipated terrain.

You should never go hiking and exploring in the local mountains and deserts without some very basic preparedness.

First, whether it’s a car or hiking trip, do some research beforehand. Excitement to get out and go and a desire for spontaneity are your enemies. Slow down. Research where you intend to go, look into weather conditions and find out whether there will be water there. Are there any trails? Do other people go there? Are there great temperature extremes between day and night?

Make a plan and an itinerary. Be sure to tell someone where you are going and when you intend to return.

If traveling by car, carry extra water, as well as a blanket, some snacks and a way to make a fire should the need arise. Have handy a map of the area in which you intend to travel. Be sure to carry road flares and jumper cables, as well as a simple tool kit (things you should carry at all times).

If you’re hiking — even out for a short day hike — there are certain items you should always have in your pack or your pockets. And keep in mind that your knowledge and experience are as valuable as all the “stuff” you carry. Carry a bare minimum of a quart of water. On a hot day, you’ll use that up quickly.

Stay alert to sources of water along your journey and ways to purify that water should the need arise. Water purifiers could be pills, or any of the pump devices sold at most backpacking stores. Did you know that you could fill an old beer can with river water and boil it over a fire to purify it? Beer cans are everywhere and could be used in a pinch.

I believe everyone should have a way to make a fire at all times. If lost while hiking, that controlled fire could be a lifesaver. Not only would it keep you warm, but it could be a signal to someone trying to find you.

I like the Doan’s magnesium fire starter, which can always be carried on a keychain. But there’s nothing wrong with a Bic or even matches, as long as they are kept in a waterproof container.

In fact, I teach my students dozens of ways to make a fire should the need arise. Even the little Fresnel magnifying lens sold at stationery stores is a good way to make a fire when the sun is shining.

If you didn’t plan ahead, there may still be hope. The concave bottom of that discarded beer can could create a fire if you’re patient. Then there’s the fire by friction method used by Native Americans. But if you’ve never tried this before, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to do this when lost. Carry that magnesium fire starter.

A knife should always be carried, at least a multiple-blade Swiss Army knife. Get one that has at least a knife, scissors and a saw. These come in handy for countless tasks.

I always carry a bundle of cord, usually the inexpensive nylon kind used for surveying. Cord has innumerable uses. In an emergency, it can be pressed into service for emergency first aid, making a pack, various repairs and many other functions.

A small first-aid kit with a lot of Band-Aids and perhaps a few anti-infection creams should be included. In fact, you should enroll in a Red Cross emergency first-aid course, because first-aid is more about knowing what to do than what to carry.

You probably already carry a cell phone, which is great for emergencies. However, there is often no cell coverage in some of the canyons of our local wilderness.

Compass? Yes, carry one along with a map of the area you intend to visit. But remember that the compass is of no value if you haven’t taken the time to learn how to use it with your map.

Though tents and sleeping bags are too bulky to carry in a day pack, you should at least consider the possibility of spending the night in the wild. What would you do? Knowledge of making a wilderness lean-to, or other expedient shelter, is a good idea. But for the pack, you should consider carrying a little emergency space blanket which is not fantastic, but certainly better than nothing. If you have a slightly bigger pack, consider adding a tube tent. Tube tents are lightweight, inexpensive and fold fairly flat.

You should also add some simple snacks to your pack. These wouldn’t be your lunch, but just something to eat “just in case.”
There are many, many more items that hikers could carry, and many do. But the above represents the bare-bones minimum that anyone should carry when traveling into the local hills.

Christopher Nyerges is the author of books on the outdoors, including “How to Survive Anywhere.” He does a weekly podcast for Preparedness Radio Network, and he blogs at A schedule of his classes at the School of Self-Reliance is available by writing to PO Box 41834, Eagle Rock, Calif., 90041.