Seven W's of Hiking Safety: Which Way?

Number 3 of the Seven W's of Hiking Safety is Which Way?

One of the most common dangers of hiking is becoming lost. Learning to use a map and compass is one way to free yourself from the worries of losing your way in the wild.

Be Prepared

Research and bring the necessary trail maps and guides. Also, it's a good idea to pack a compass and know how to use it, as well as a GPS.

Be aware of natural and artificial landmarks in the area, and tell others where you are going and for how long, so they can alert search and rescue if you do not return as planned.

Wear bright clothing so that potential rescuers can spot you, and bring extra water, food and clothing in case you have to spend the night in the forest.

Don't Panic

If you become lost, stay calm and stay put. First of all, are you actually lost? Can you find any natural landmark by using your map, compass or GPS?

Is there a high position from which you could survey the surrounding area and perhaps shed some light on where you are? If you truly do not know where you are, that's ok--just stay put.

If you have alerted others to your hiking plans, then search and rescue will be dispatched once you miss your return deadline. With a general idea of your location, search and rescue will find you.

Also, don't panic about spending the night in the forest. If you have warm clothing, plenty of water and food, one night in the forest won't hurt you.

Don't start a fire unless absolutely necessary. Wildfires have been started by lost hikers that have burned millions of acres (you don't want a far more dangerous situation on your hands, so, keep warm with extra clothing and an emergency blanket and avoid building a fire unless you must in order to save your life).

Another excellent way to keep warm is to "hug" a tree. Simply huddle close to a tree and cover yourself with branches and leaves. To aid rescuers in finding you, hang a bright colored piece of clothing high up so that helicopters can see it.

The signal of three is also a well-used sign of distress. This includes three bright objects set in a row, three blasts of your whistle, etc.

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Riverside Hiking Examiner Cathy Flores is a freelance author currently writing a hiking guide for the San Bernardino Mountains.

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