Leave Word

Provide a Means of Alerting Search and Rescue if Your Hike or Backpacking Trip Becomes an Emergency

Hikers at Colchuck Lake

Pilots file Flight Plans during air travel. A Flight Plan indicates the time and point of departure, the flight path, and the time and point of destination. The same is true for the return flight. Flight Plans provide a means of alerting search and rescue if a flight is overdue.

You probably won’t be using aircraft, however consider the same concept for on-the-ground excursions.

How Long Would It Take?

What would happen if you experience an emergency on your hike or backpacking trip, and are unable to return to your car or campsite? How long would it be before you’re missed? Would anyone know where to start looking for you? If you were injured, how long would you survive before help came?

These are sobering questions. Unfortunately, many, many search hours are spent looking in very large areas for people who fail to return home, or fail to show up at work or school, when no specific word was left where they were or what they were doing. It’s often days before they’re reported overdue.

Searchers must guess at the most likely locations, and critical time is spent just looking for the missing person’s car or campsite. Only then can they narrow down the search area. By that time, it may be too late.

Trip Plan– A detailed account of your trip, from start to finish.

File a Trip Plan

Always file a Trip Plan before you leave on any hike or backpacking trip, no matter how short or seemingly insignificant. Leave it with a trusted family member, neighbor, co-worker, or friend, and make sure that person is going to be available during the trip’s duration.

Trip Plan Elements

Your Trip Plan should include:

  • Your name, address, phone number.
  • Trail name, and map with trail shown.
  • Departure time/date.
  • Return time/date.
  • Nature or focus of trip (hiking, climbing, etc.)
  • Trip itinerary (such as, “Leave Stuart Lake Trailhead, hike to Stuart Lake on Stuart Lake Trail, have lunch and take pictures, come back to Stuart Lake Trailhead.”). Include key trip elements.
  • Vehicle description or descriptions (for example, what was left parked at a given trailhead at the start of the trip, etc.). Include make, model, color, and license plate.
  • Type and color of your tent(s) and other large camp gear items; aids aerial searchers when looking for your camp.
  • Names, addresses, and phone numbers of others in the group.
  • Any medical issues (such as, “James walks slow due to recent knee surgery”, etc.).
  • Anything else that a searcher or rescuer needs to know that’s unique to your group.

What happens if you reach your starting point and decide to go somewhere else (maybe due to weather or other circumstances)? What if you want to change a key trip element?

Only make changes to your Trip Plan if you contact the person you left your original Trip Plan with, and make sure they note the changes.