There are three main ways to ensure your safety on the trail, which we’ll go into more detail about below: making a route plan, making an exit plan & researching and carrying the proper safety gear.
A good route plan serves two important purposes:
- It helps you to refine your itinerary and
- It allows you to visualize your upcoming trip
A well thought-out route plan can also help others find you in case you run into trouble. Always make sure to leave your plan with someone you trust before you head out on your overnight trip.
A good route plan should include:
- Names (or coordinates) of starting and ending points, including points of interest, like campsites
- Total and daily travel distances
- Daily elevation gain and loss
- Estimated daily travel time (time on trail for each day)
- Description of your route, including landmarks and potential bailout points
- Points of concern, like river crossings or tricky terrain
- Departure time
- Estimated arrival time
- “Send help” time – the time at which friends or family should alert authorities if they haven’t heard from you
It’s important to have an exit plan laid out ahead of time in case something unexpected happens while you’re on-trail. For example, if the weather turns bad or you or someone in your group gets hurt, you’ll want to know how you can safely exit your hike without endangering yourself or anyone else.
There are a few exit strategies you can use in the event of an emergency or unexpected bad weather. You can:
- Backtrack back to the trailhead. You might be able to find a shorter or easier way to get back to the trailhead or
- You can find a safe shelter where you can wait for help to arrive.
It’s recommended you bring a whistle to make noise if you’re in trouble and a cellphone you can use to call for help if there’s reception.
There are other devices you might want to consider bringing depending on where you’re heading.
PERSONAL LOCATOR BEACON (PLB)
This device will send your GPS location as a general SOS signal to a nearby Search & Rescue squad.
Keep in mind that you can’t send details with a PLB, so rescuers will respond as though it’s a life-threatening situation.
Only deploy a PLB in case of serious injury or risk to someone’s life.
A PLB is a last ditch insurance policy in case something goes wrong.
These devices can send your GPS location as well as a more personal message to contacts you’ve chosen ahead of time.
Some satellite messengers send preset messages and others let you compose short texts
In case of an emergency, you can use a satellite messenger to alert your contacts who can then alert rescuers
Keep in mind that satellite messengers require subscription services on top of the cost of the device to function.
Satellite messengers are best for giving peace of mind to your friends and family back home and for calling help in an emergency.
Satellite phones use satellites rather than the standard cellular towers that normal cellphones use.
They let you make calls from extremely remote places, but they’re also very expensive.
They’re probably overkill for everything but the most extended and extreme expeditions.