I have posted several articles about Inchworm, the hiker who went missing a couple of years ago while hiking on the Appalachian Trail (Link to article). I know people who knew her and hiked with her, although I personally did not know her, her sad and untimely death is enough of a warning for us all to think about our hiking safety backup plan.
1. First and foremost, learn your hike before you even leave the house. I dont go on one single hike without educating myself on the topography, reading possible reviews online and taking a mental note of the trail layout from an aerial view (This can be done in Google Maps).
2. Don’t ever rely on your cell phone service. While I always send my shared location with a family member and keep a backup battery pack with me, this is not full proof.
3. Without adding too much weight; I always carry extra water, a whistle, and a set of dry clothes in my pack.
4. Make mental notes of landmarks or specific steps you take, such as walking through a stream, climbing over a stump, an odd shaped tree. This way if you get of course they can help you retrace your steps.
5. Never feel too confident or comfortable while out on a hike.. Always keep a compass. Technology can fail, die or break.. and while having a GPS with you is great, I wouldn’t let that be your only tool. Likewise, having a paper map with you is also a great idea.
6. Some know that moss grows on the Northern side of trees in the (northern hemisphere, and the southern side in the southern hemisphere). However, it grows on both sides of the trees in dense forest, the kind of place you will most likely be hiking.
7. When I was on the AT my brother was hiking a mile or two ahead of me. he would draw our special symbol in the dirt every 1.2 mile or so so that I knew he was up ahead. I knew if I didn’t see that marker I may have been lost. Once I found his marks I always covered up the marker so that we would know I had been to that spot. Of course this only works on long distance hikes and with a friend. However it can work if you’re hiking out and back even if you’re alone.
8. In the event that you do get lost and you need to stay overnight, make sure you stay in a place that has high visibility from the sky. I also always have a colored bandana with me which I would hang from a tree nearby to help my chances of being spotted.
I am not a professional and none of these suggestions are a guarantee but they have certainly helped me along the way. Of course, always consult with a doctor and don’t try to take on more than you can physically handle. Please feel free to comment your own Hiking Safety tips and tricks!