Earlier this morning I overheard that a missing hiker we’re looking for has been found deceased. Unrelated, there’s an additional missing person we’ve spent a lot of time looking for. I got to thinking a bit about the major things that can really help if you end up in trouble, mainly from a perspective of a guy like me finding you.
This isn’t a list a of survival items, although some things can serve a few purposes. This is the internal musings in my head and the collective wisdom of other rescuers I’ve spoken with in the many, many hours we spent looking. Often we say “you know what would make this guy a lot easier to find ….”
Cell Phone Coverage (or) A Spot/ InReach
If you have cell phone coverage or carry a Spot or InReach device, you can not only signal out but (provided sar teams know you have it) we can generally activate it from our side and get your position. Even without that, simply being able to track your device in your direction of travel can be huge. I personally use an InReach and our SAR field teams use them as well.
Someone Who Knows Where You Were Going
Be as specific as you can be. If you’re going to make choices in the field, tell them that. Whatever’s in your head, we want to know so we can try to imagine what you’re up to. Are you going to get to some particular thing come hell or high water, or do you have a backup plan? Just give us something to work with so we can tighten up our search areas and not just look at a huge forest and guess.
A mylar “space blanket”
These things are dirt cheap and somewhat useless at keeping you warm in truly cold conditions, but they have four excellent characteristics.
- They are noisy as hell. Secure one under some rocks and let a chunk of it blow in the breeze. The crinkle sound is distinct to other forest sounds.
- They are sort-of-shiny and visible to the naked eye. They stand out like a sore thumb in the sea of brown and green that is nature.
- Predator drones flying overhead can spot them fairly easily. Really.
- With half pinned to the ground with a rock with a good view overhead it makes a great eye-catcher for folks looking from the air and for ground teams crossing your area.
Newer backpacks have crummy-but-okay whistles built into the sternum straps. Personally I carry (and put in my kid’s pack) a Fox 40 which is cheap (~$7), small, and truly loud enough to cause hearing damage so cover your ears when you blow it.
Someone who knows your shoe model and size
When you walk around, you change things. Some durable surfaces like asphalt might not take a print, but if you walk onto one from the dirt you might leave a dirt print on the roadway. When you hop across that creek and land on the soft material on the far side, chances are you’ve left a pretty decent print. But none of that matters if we don’t know what you’re wearing.
Non earth colored tones
My team was getting briefed the other day for a missing hiker. The guy giving the info out says “… subject is wearing olive pants, and gray shirt, and a dark green pack…. “. That’s perfect if you want to go into combat, but a searcher would basically have to walk right over you to see you. Drop a shadow over you or some foliage and you blend in like a rock. Wear something with some color in it, a color that stands out in a shocking way. I have a light blue shirt, a bright orange CamelBack, and a bright orange beanie. My snow jacket has little neon highlights. My backcountry backpack has blue and green contrasting colors.
Try to wear something that contrasts against itself. Nature has a few bright colors but it doesn’t usually have sharp lines of bright colors contrasting against other colors.
Fire starting equipment
This doesn’t need to be much. Survivalist gear is neat but I’d trust a mini bic lighter and little fire starters all day long, wrapped in a zip lock. Yes, fires keep you warm, but they also smell. The smoke is visible from a long way off and if a chopper with a FLIR is looking for you it’s like trying to find the sun in the sky mid-day: not challenging.
Use a knife, or a sharp piece of granite if you’re really unfortunate, to scrape kindling from bigger pieces of wood.
None of this stuff (except the satellite beacons) is expensive. You could fit all of it in your hand and squeeze, and gear wise you’re out $20. So as a reminder:
- Text someone your plans when you go out, along with a picture of the bottom of your shoe with the make/model/size. If you’ve texted/emailed them the shoe stuff already, just stick with the plans.
- Bring a whistle, fire starting gear, and a space blanket.
- Satellite beacons are really handy not just for you but for other people in trouble you may come across.
- Wear something bright. You don’t need to look like a neon sign, but don’t do a great job of blending in, either.