Getting lost can happen to anyone. Trails disappear, maps are wrong, and injuries happen. What you do BEFORE you even start out on the trail can save your life. Just to be clear, I’m not talking about seven day, across the Andes hikes. These are hiking safety rules you should follow even for day trips in national parks with clearly marked trails.
Hey, the S.S. Minnow only went out for a three hour tour, and look how that turned out. I like to follow the “Just Rule.” If at any time you use the phrase “I’m JUST going on a little hike,” you’re already in trouble. Keep the following hiking tips and suggestions in mind.
Hiking Safety Tips
- Plan your pack. Consult the area guides, hiking sites, and my favorite- www.hikingdude.com – to see what is recommended. Plan carefully for expected weather. Don’t pack for a perfect hike. Pack for emergencies and keeping yourself alive if you are injured on lost and have to spend the night on the trail. Take a first aid kit. Take some snacks. Take chocolate in case of Dementors. Always take more water than you think you need.
- Before you leave the house, learn to work your technology. If you have never used a handheld GPS, don’t wait until you are halfway up the trail to turn it on. Some of those fancier models require a degree is astrophysics to program them. More than once, people have used their GPS wrong, and given rescuers the wrong coordinates. Wouldn’t hurt to learn to use a compass as well. The batteries never die in a compass. While you’re at it, light a small campfire in your back yard. Ever tried to use a knife and a flint to start a fire? It’s not as easy as it looks on TV. Find a place it’s legal to fire a flare gun. If you are carrying it with you, learn how it works.
- Get a map! Don’t count on trails to be marked clearly, or other hikers to tell you where to go. Get a map, learn to read it before you put one foot on the trail. As you hike, mark landmarks and other signals on the map you will be carrying with you at all times. This is your hiking reset button. If you start to get lost, you can restore to the last known working settings, ie: the big rock that looks like a badger. I’d like to stress that your phone is NOT a substitute for a map. Rain, lack of signal, a good thunk on a rock will all disable your phone. It’s hard to disable a map.
- Tell someone where you are going, and when you will be back. No one will come and look for you if no one knows you are missing! I know some amazing survivalists, and some amazing Search and Rescue people. They all tell someone where they are going, and when they will return. Call your family, check in with the ranger station, leave an envelope in your glove box. I cannot stress how important this is. This not only will signal that you are missing, but will give the search and rescue teams a better idea of where to start looking for you. The smaller the search area, the quicker they can find you. Telling someone your schedule may be the most important thing you can do to save your life in an emergency.
- Admit when you are lost. I cannot tell you how many people think they KNOW how to get back on the trail, and just end up deeper in the wilderness. Let’s face it, there is something in our brains as adults that seems to impair our ability to admit we’ve made a mistake. Some of us have watched too much cable, and think we can survive on morning dew and ants. If you are lost or injured- STOP! Sit your ass down and take stock of your situation. Find shelter, make a plan, and wait for someone to find you. If it gets dark, sit your ass down. Stumbling around in the dark will only get you more lost and possible injured. When you do not return by your designated time or date, someone will come and find you. You did check in at the ranger station, right?
Hiking may be low tech, unplugged, back to nature – but use some high tech before you leave. Research, read, and learn all you can. Some hard work before you go means you can relax and enjoy your hike later.