Camping Safety
Credit: Kevin Callan

More than double the amount of people died or were injured out in the wilderness this season, compared to last year.

Of course, the big question is why? At least that’s what the media has been asking me lately. I have been on countless interviews and all of them wanted a simple answer to the increase in outdoor mishaps.

I first blurted out some potential explanations: more people are heading out in the woods; more high-tech gadgets are now available to call for help.

But those were meager points, and I eventually revealed what I thought was the real truth behind the issue — a good majority of campers just aren’t skilled enough to be out there in the first place.

We live in a society where information is quickly and easily obtained. That’s a good thing. But wilderness skills can’t be learned quickly and easily. They take time. But we don’t seem to have the patience — or even desire — to take the time. Watching YouTube videos on how to fix a toilet doesn’t make you a trained plumber. The same goes with lighting a fire or erecting a tarp. Practice makes perfect.

Worst part, however, is less people will want to go out. It's easier just to stay at home. A recent school in Toronto cancelled their annual camping trip and went to Canada's Wonderland instead. The decision was based on two main reasons — the liability was too high (or perceived to be) and there was little interest from the students in going camping.  The second point is the one I'm really worried about. The fewer people we have going out there, the less wilderness will be protected.

Another concern is the question of who’s responsible for making sure people DO know what they're doing when they go into the wilderness. It’s a really good question — something I had a difficult time finding out. Provincial and national parks aren’t necessarily responsible for making sure everyone is skilled before heading out — and if they were, how would they do it?

Most outfitters take pride in educating the people they help — but some campers simply don’t want the help. I’m not sure how you’re going to change that. We also have Paddle Canada, and they do a good job in training people to safely go on canoe and kayak trips. But it’s geared towards the converted — those who already want to learn the skills and play safe.

There are some rumblings about making paddling tests mandatory, or at least having more “forced” educational programs placed towards the unskilled canoeists and kayakers. But I don’t think a “boat smart” program for paddle-tripping is really going to help. It’s just another cash grab in my opinion, plain and simple. It’s also why we grow frustrated, or even angry, each time we hear about another outdoor mishap in the news. The more it happens, the more chance tight regulations will be forced upon those that do play it safe out there. How fair is that?

We have to reach the masses and talk sense with them — let them know what my mother, who has a strong Scottish disposition, always told me before heading out into the woods.

“Dinnea be stupid!”

That’s what she would blurt out every time I’d head out on a trip; and she still gives me that sage advice. Seems harsh — but being logical about things while you're out there makes the most sense. Wear a PFD or lifejacket, wait until the wind dies down on a lake before crossing it, bring a first-aid kit (and know how to use it). Just... Dinnea be stupid!

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