Being older and somewhat wiser you can look back at exploring indiscretions and see all the bad choices you’ve made and unnecessary risks you’ve taken.
Today I want to give a few tips about minimizing risk. I believe these tips will be useful for old houses, industrial areas, and even rural hikes to distant forgotten spots.
First, one thing it took me years to really start to consider was the possibility of injury. Skulking around old buildings puts you in places where there are bad floors, sharp objects, and sometimes even falling debris to contend with. With that in mind, chance of injury is much higher urban exploring than it is sitting on your couch, and it’s a good idea to plan accordingly.
The most important piece of safety gear you can and should always carry is going to be a first aid kit of some sort. And I don’t mean those plastic boxes of Band-Aids, sunburn cream, and Aspirin you get at Wal-Mart on the camping aisle. What I’m talking about is an actual dedicated trauma kit with the right kind of gauze, and a proper tourniquet. These are generally referred to as an Individual First Aid Kit or “IFAK”.
However, the real problem with these kits is that the average person does not know how to use the materials in them. Unless you come from a medical background like myself or have had training through a workplace or some sort of military or law enforcement setting, the average person is not going to know when, where, or how to use a tourniquet. With that in mind, it’s not enough to simply carry an IFAK, one has to know how to use it.
This is where the Stop The Bleed Coalition comes in. STB is a coalition of orgs and individuals that are dedicated to teaching members of the public what to do in the event of an accident or situation that leads to traumatic bleeding. It allows you as a bystander to gain skills which could save someone’s life, and maybe even your own.
This is accomplished through classes, both online an in person, such as the “Stop The Bleed” classes and American Red Cross FAST Training. These are simple classes that pretty much anyone can benefit from, and they make the IFAK you carry more than just cool gear you bought, but useful, possibly lifesaving equipment.
Regarding your choice of an IFAK, there are numerous possibilities. You can buy the components and make your own, you can buy them premade. But, what is important to remember is that lifesaving gear is not the category where you should be a cheapskate. Don’t buy Chinese tourniquets. Don’t buy those “survival kits” you see sold on knife websites. Buy something meant to be used and tested to be useable.
It’s also helpful to tailor your kit to your trip. If you’re going in alone, an IFAK is a good starting point. If you’re going with a group, it’s not a bad idea to take more than the contents of a single kit. The fact that you’re carrying an IFAK also doesn’t mean you can’t carry extra gauze, dressing, or items that might be useful in the area you’re going to be, such as eye rinse. Determine your needs and then build your kit each time with the destination in mind.
Second, it is always a good idea to let someone know where you’re going to be. There were so many times when I started out exploring that I would wander off alone, into old factories where no one would guess I was going to be. If something had happened to me in one of those places (such as falling though a floor) that left me unable to move or to get out, there’s no telling when anyone would have ever found me.
With that in mind, tell someone you trust where you plan on going and about how long you plan to be there. If possible, check in with that person by text or call at set intervals.
For example, let’s say your going to an old mill at 2PM, and you plan to be there until 4PM. Communicate that to your contact, and then maybe promise to check in at 3PM to let them know things are going OK, and then 4PM to let them know that you’re on the way out or maybe plan to stay a bit longer. If you’ve discovered the mill was larger than you thought and you’re going to spend some more time inside, maybe agree to either contact them again in half an hour or an hour, or when you leave, whichever comes first. Setting up these kinds of check-ins can alert your contact that something may be off. It may only be that you dropped your phone in a flooded basement and wrecked it, but it could also be that you passed out from heat exhaustion and are in danger of not waking up again. So when I say “someone you trust”, make sure it’s someone you trust with your life.
These are just two thoughts I wanted to put in writing today, but there are of course other things to consider when exploring, and other items you may need. Most of these will be common sense. Good shoes/boots. Durable clothes. Head protection if there is the possibility of overhead or falling debris. Eye protection in certain environments. A quality respirator in areas with asbestos and molds. Single gas oxygen monitors for caving and preferably a 4 gas monitor to really be safe.
There is also a plethora of information out there about safety when exploring from people who have been doing it even longer than me, don’t hesitate to consider it.