SALT LAKE CITY — Utah has thousands of miles of scenic trails for hikers to enjoy. Unfortunately, every year, hundreds of hikers get lost, injured, and in some tragic cases, even die while out on the trail. Even the most experienced hiker can find himself or herself in a potentially dangerous situation.
Regardless of how well prepared you might be, sometimes things don’t go according to plan and you may find yourself confronted with unforeseen hazards or lost in the backcountry. Here are some tips that could save your life when in the outdoors.
Many backcountry emergencies and rescues can be avoided through proper preparation. Research where you are going, so you’re familiar with the local roads, directions, local wildlife, climate and flow of rivers and mountain ranges. Get in the habit of always carrying a basic survival kit in your backpack. Have the proper clothing for the season. Carry sufficient water, food, methods of water filtration or purification, as well as a way to start a fire.
Tell people where you are going
Always tell two or three people where you are going and when you expect to return. That way, if you are not back by the scheduled time, the authorities can be promptly notified. Early notification of appropriate agencies can mean the difference between life and death.
Take someone with you
Never hike alone. Even though you may be experienced in the outdoors or you know the area, don’t take the risk. It takes just one unlucky thing to happen for you to be in a bad spot. Plus, not only is it safer, but it can be more enjoyable sharing the outdoors with others.
In the Wilderness Survival merit badge book, Boy Scouts learn what to do if lost, by remembering the simple acronym, "STOP." As part of your preparation for your hike, memorize this acronym. If you find yourself disoriented in the outdoors, follow the steps below to increase your chances of a favorable resolution.
Use the "STOP" method
S — Stop
As soon as you think you may be lost, stop moving. It's the most important thing you can do. Take care of your immediate safety and that of anyone else who is with you and relax as best you can. Take a seat on a rock and let the initial fear of being lost subside.
It’s okay and natural to “freak out” a little for a couple of minutes. That’s why you need to stop and chill. Just don’t let it overwhelm you. Everything is going to be fine. Drink some water. Eat a snack. Even if it’s getting close to dark, you have time and you have resources.
Survival is 85 percent mental and only 15 percent physical. You are intelligent and you know more than you think when it comes to survival. Now is the time to start discovering it.
T — Think
Assemble the group. Use your brain to figure out what is really going on. If you think you are lost, study your map and try to determine where you are. Look around for landmarks. Note the contours of hills, ridges or mountains and where you are in relation to streams or lakes.
If you don’t have a map, try to remember where you could have gotten off course. What was the last landmark you positively identified? In what direction did you travel from there? If you are on a trail or a road, can you follow it back to your starting point? If you have left footprints in the snow, can you retrace your tracks? Don’t go anywhere yet. There is no rush.
O — Observe
Assess the immediate situation. What are the weather conditions? Where is a good place to take shelter? Take inventory of everything you have in your pack and pockets and look around to get a sense of the natural resources nearby. What clothing do you have? How can you improvise with what is available to make it suit your needs? Still don’t go anywhere yet. There is no rush.
P — Plan
When you have figured out what your situation really is, the group can put together a plan for what to do next. Build your plan on what you have observed, what you have in the way of equipment, what you can improvise from native materials and how you can keep yourself safe.
Put into practice the survival steps you have learned, and wait as calmly as you can for help to arrive. Plan carefully and cautiously; don’t make your situation worse by acting hastily. Most people are found within the first 24 hours of becoming lost or encountering difficulties in the backcountry. You could, if necessary, survive much longer.
After taking care of your immediate safety, your priorities should be to get protection, rescue, water and then food.
Carry enough water for an emergency
Always make sure that you carry enough water and drink water regularly while on the trail. Always carry three liters of water per person on all hikes — even the short, easy hikes. Also have extra water in your vehicle for when you return.
Perhaps most importantly, make sure that you are fully hydrated before you even hit the trail. Know the signs of dehydration, and stop to re-hydrate. It may even be necessary to turn back if additional water sources aren’t available.
If that is your decision, avoid moving during the heat of the day. If you have a flashlight in your backpack, it may be best to wait in a shady spot until it is near sunset, as the sun will not be as strong and high in the sky and it could even be a little cooler at that time.
Getting lost and suffering dehydration are just two situations that you could experience on the trail. There are several other dangers that could arise while out on the trail such as encounters with wild animals, wildfires, flash flooding, lightning and heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
This article was not written to scare people from enjoying the outdoors, but to educate. If something does arise, now you'll know what to do. So get out there and enjoy all the wonderful hiking destinations around Utah.
Adam Provance is the founder of YourHikeGuide.com and has hiked all over the southwestern United States. He is an Eagle Scout and also an instructor for Desert & Wilderness Survival. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org