20190403-New Hampshire-white mountain national forest

Promoting Safety in the Outdoors: Minus33’s Work with the hikeSafe Program

Even the most experienced hiker has had the unfortunate experience of being out in nature unprepared. Whether it was getting caught in an unexpected storm, having a piece of gear break, or running out of water on a hot day, we’ve all been there. And that’s what inspired the creation of hikeSafe, “a joint program between the White Mountain National Forest (WMNF) and the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department (NHF&G).” Originally developed in 2003, hikeSafe strives to educate people before they head out into the White Mountains and wilderness in New Hampshire.

“The hikeSafe program focuses on the ‘10 Essentials’ everyone should have, which are: warm clothing, a compass, a map, a headlamp/flashlight, extra food/water, matches/firestarters, first-aid/repair kit, whistle, rain protection, and a pocket knife,” explains Brad Morse, from the NHF&G.

The program also encourages people to follow the hiker code, which states that people should have the necessary knowledge and gear needed to hike safely. It also states that people should alert others to their hiking plan, stay together on the trail, and be prepared to turn back. Plus, the code says hikers should be prepared for emergencies and also share the hiker code with others.

“The main goal is to promote hiking principles that reduce the potential for someone to be rescued,” says Morse. One of the ways that hikeSafe does this is through trail steward programs. Volunteers set up at major trailheads and talk to people about whether or not they might be prepared for their potential adventures, suggesting that those who aren’t prepared turn around.

But on occasion, there are still people who need to be rescued for one reason or another, and conditions can be brutal for both the rescuer and the person in danger, which is why Minus33 got involved with hikeSafe in 2017.

“John, our president, is good friends with Lt. Brad Morse, who is a member of the Search and Rescue Dive Team, among other Fish & Game positions. One day Brad and John got to talking and Brad had asked if Minus33 had any spare clothing that he could carry with him on some of the rescue missions,” Kelly Meegan from Minus33 says.

After Minus33 donated clothing to Morse, the company decided to get more involved in supporting search and rescue efforts and reached out to the hikeSafe coordinators to become an official cooperator in 2017. “We also felt an obligation to do something meaningful with our returns and seconds, by donating them to something useful instead of throwing them away,” Meegan says.

As an official cooperator of the hikeSafe program, Minus33 can share official hikeSafe information with customers through its website and other channels. The goal is to support search and rescue efforts in two ways: to keep people warm after being rescued and to keep the SAR teams warm as well.

According to Morse, the Minus33 gear has come in handy multiple times. He recounts in one rescue situation in the Dry River Valley, “hikers got caught in waist-deep snow, and the rivers surrounding the trail were swollen and impassable. Because of this, the hikers were soaking wet. They put the Minus33 gear on and got back in their sleeping bags to warm up before the helicopter came to evacuate the trapped hikers.”

Another time, “a man who had dementia got lost while wearing sweatpants, a long sleeve cotton shirt, and slippers. When the SAR team was able to get to him, he was semi-conscious and couldn’t walk or talk. The SAR team performed a carryout, put him in the Minus33 gear, and then layered a hypo-wrap over that (a hypo-wrap is essentially a tarp with sleeping bags inside, also called a thermal burrito). By the time the SAR team got him down to the ambulance he was able to talk and begin communicating with the team.”

In 2017 and 2018, 333 people were rescued by hikeSafe, and while the organization is partially supported by the sales of hikeSafe cards, the costs add up quickly. By providing hikeSafe with kits from customer returns, donations, and quality tested items, Minus33 helps provide materials that the organization won’t have to go out and purchase. Each kit contains at least one pair of long johns, one long-sleeved top, and headwear and socks if they’re available.

Minus33 has created 70 kits since 2017 and hopes to eventually share its donations with SAR groups in neighboring states such as Vermont, Maine, and New York. Minus33 has “been involved with Fish & Game for almost as long as we have been in business by giving all conservation officers a discount on any purchases,” Meegan says proudly. “We frequently have conservation officers stopping by to pick up some gear to wear on the job.”

While many outdoor companies talk about their commitment to the outdoors and the people who enjoy it, Minus33 is walking the walk. Minus33 hopes “to turn hikeSafe into a nationwide campaign for hiker safety and awareness.” Keep an eye on the Minus33 Facebook page and blog for tips and tricks on hiking safely.

Written by Abbie Mood for Matcha in partnership with Minus33.

Featured image provided by rickpilot_2000

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