Backcountry Emergency Locator Devices

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Should hikers carry emergency locator devices in the backcountry?
Yes: 54%
It just makes safe sense to carry one of these devices. Even though the odds of incident are slim, you can’t guarantee that you won’t get hurt in the backcountry. What if you run into someone who actually does need help? Do you leave them to get assistance and take the risk? Cell phones don’t always work. So you press the SOS button and continue to give aid. You also have the peace of mind that your family can track you.
—Brad G., via e-mail

Illustration by Wade Mickley

It’s smart to carry a SPOT as an extra precaution, but don’t rely on it as a safety net. People should head into the backcountry prepared with the proper gear and skills. If you get into enough trouble, the device isn’t going to be a guaranteed magic bullet. Respect the power of the wilderness by being ready to explore it.
—Rick Addison, Charleston, S.C.

No: 46%
I have found that they do not always work for a variety of reasons. Use promotes the idea that if I carry this device I do not need to know necessary first aid, rescue, and emergency skills. Like a GPS, it tends to give some people a false sense of safety. I am sure there are times and places that SPOT would be good, but I fear people will not try to hone the necessary skills for survival in the outdoors.
—Mark Wenger, Williamsburg, Va.

I have read accounts about people doing alpine routes they shouldn’t have due to weather or skill level, because they feel safer with a SPOT (or like device). The knowledge that help is just a click away gets people into trouble.
—Matt B., via e-mail

Technology has gotten way out of hand in the outdoors. Where is the true sense of adventure, if we are constantly relying on gadgets to get us from place to place and bail us out of tough situations?
—Alex Griffin, Gaithersburg, Md.

Is it okay to occasionally feed wildlife?
Yes: 22%
I don’t see anything wrong with putting out birdseed in the winter, because it is no different than growing sunflowers for them to eat in the summer and autumn. As for feeding mammals, the same rule applies. If you own land and want to plant oaks or other plant species that are part of the area’s ecosystem and produce food for wildlife, go for it. As for putting out feeders or leaving out food in the backcountry, there is no reason why any outdoor enthusiasts should be foolish enough to feed wildlife. It violates the principles of Leave No Trace.
—Keith Brown, Charlottesville, Va.

No: 78%
Feeding wildlife both interrupts their natural life cycle and in some cases can even be detrimental to humans. I also think it’s important to note that many animals have specialized diets, so to feed them what a hiker would be carrying may seriously injure the animal (and in some cases kill it).
—Elizabeth Paushter, Asheville, N.C.

Just ask the hikers and backpackers how they feel when their expensive gear gets ripped apart by a bear returning for free grub.
—Chrissa, via e-mail

Recently a black bear was euthanized because a photographer got too close and the bear bit him. Such irresponsibility on the photographer’s part, yet the bear paid the price. Not only should we not feed the animals, we should keep a respectable distance from them as well. It is for their safety, as well as ours.
—R., via e-mail

What do you think?
Respond online to our next Switchback question and you’ll be entered to win a snowboard setup from Peter Glenn Ski & Sports. For more prize package info go to BlueRidgeOutdoors.com

CONGRATS to Mark Hutchens from Subaru and Blue Ridge Outdoors. Marks’s great response won him Apple iPad!

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