The Importance of Rest in the Back Country

I was fairly new to the business and eager to make connections and keep clients happy by being available when they needed me. I had already booked a project and now a different client was contacting me for a different project all together. The first job would end about 3 a.m. and the second one begin about 7 a.m. that same morning. I was young and full of myself, so I agreed to do the second one. Needless to say, I was a wreck. I couldn’t think clearly, I was moving slowly and I was caught dozing off a couple of times. Not a good way to keep a client happy.

That little experience is not unusual. People are doing it all the time, with reckless abandon, and getting into fatal accidents.

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The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration conservatively estimates that 100,000 police-reported crashes are the direct result of driver fatigue each year. This results in an estimated 1,550 deaths, 71,000 injuries, and $12.5 billion in monetary losses. These figures may be the tip of the iceberg, since currently it is difficult to attribute crashes to sleepiness.

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I realize this is a wilderness recreation site and I’ve just thrown out stats about driving, so what gives? The fact of the matter is it does matter. I’ve been on wilderness trips with groups where some of the members wanted to keep pushing to the next spot while others were having difficulty standing on their feet. I’ve been with people who, after a long day driving, wanted to make that final push through the mountain pass, instead of pulling off and setting up camp and getting rest. Not only is it not healthy, it is also dangerous to oneself and others who may be affected by the situation, such as passengers or fellow hikers.

Quality rest is essential to your well being. So, when I list rest as one of my 10 essentials for Wilderness travel I mean it. Without rest, your mind and body breakdown.

Here are a few medically proven things which occur when you don’t get good rest:

  • become irritable
  • lose alertness
  • loss of memory
  • impaired judgment
  • loss of focus
  • increased risk of heart disease
  • increased risk of diabetes
  • increased risk of high blood pressure
  • kills sex drive
  • your skin ages
  • decrease in physical performance
  • you lose ability to anticipate and recognize risks
  • loss of rational behavior

The solution to getting rest is quite simply be cognizant of how you schedule your day, keep your ego in check, be sure of your travel routes and their risks, be realistic of your abilities.

Don’t plan to take a trip after a long day of tiring work. Either take the day off of work and commit to your travels, or wait until you’ve rested (slept) well. The following morning, after a good night’s rest, is more prudent.

If you’ve been backpacking hours and it starts to get late before you reach your destination, don’t keep pushing. It’s time to settle down and re-energize. The increased fatigue can only increase the level of risk by diminishing your mental and physical acuteness.

Folks which don’t have the stamina of a more seasoned hiker should not try and overexert themselves for the sake of keeping up with the Jones.

You more seasoned hikers, be aware of the ability of others in your group and maintain your pace to that of the slowest person. It may not be fun for you, but you reduce the risk of injury to that person by not making them feel they have to keep up with your pace. Rest along side them and don’t criticize their performance level.

Bottom line, getting plenty of rest goes a long way in keeping you out of trouble in the back country. And once in trouble, it goes a long way in helping you keep your wits about you.

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