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Backpacker Magazine – November 2011

Rip & Live: Lost

More than 1,000 hikers go missing every year in our national parks alone. Most are found within hours, but basic skills can help you get home without making a serious—or even fatal—mistake. Follow this advice for staying on course.

by: Kristy Holland

PAGE 1 2 3 4 5
Rock cairns Like this one can help you stay oriented.  (by Kirkendall)
Rock cairns Like this one can help you stay oriented. (by Kirkendall)
A satellite communicator can be a lifesaving tool.
A satellite communicator can be a lifesaving tool.
This signpost is a clue that you're on the right track. (by Seaver)
Photo by This signpost is a clue that you're on the right track. (by Seaver)
This signpost is a clue that you're on the right track. (by Seaver)
A white blaze is a standard trail marker. (by J. Chow)
Photo by A white blaze is a standard trail marker. (by J. Chow)
A white blaze is a standard trail marker. (by J. Chow)
Survive overnight with a shelter like this. (by Supercorn)
Photo by Survive overnight with a shelter like this. (by Supercorn)
Survive overnight with a shelter like this. (by Supercorn)



Stay Oriented
Use these tricks to place yourself on a map.

>> Calculate distance. As you travel and cross-reference your map, esti- mate miles traveled. A typical hiker covers up to three miles per hour, not including breaks. Add 30 minutes for every 1,000 feet of climbing, and subtract 10 minutes for every 1,000 feet of descending. Or iden- tify landmarks on your map like peaks and river crossings, and time your progress between them to gauge pace.
>> Aim off. Hiking a beeline is almost impossible in wilderness terrain. If your intended target, like a bridge or town, is near a road or river use this tactic: Aim 3 to 5 degrees to the left or right of your ultimate destination. When you hit the road or river, you’ll know which direc- tion to turn to hit your goal.

---

Look for Landmarks
Notice trail markers and be prepared to backtrack.

“Staying aware is the most important thing you can do to avoid becoming lost,” says Robert Koester, who researched more than 50,000 search-and-rescue incidents for his book, Lost Person Behavior. His best advice? Bring your eyes up—don’t focus on your feet—and scan your surroundings: up close, far away, and behind. Good navigators notice landmarks and continuously reference their map and compass. Haven’t seen a trail marker in a while? That could be the first clue that you’re lost. Backtrack to the last landmark you recognize, and stay alert for these reassurance markers beside trails.

BLAZE
Some trails, like the AT, are marked by a stan- dard paint blaze (left). But in wilderness areas, a blaze could also look like two rectangular cuts (a smaller one on top of a larger one) in the bark on both sides of a tree; blazes are common at junc- tions and trails in designated wilderness areas.

BLAZER (MARKER FLAG)
Colored markers (usually made of aluminum or plastic) nailed into trees at eye level or at least 30 inches high. Be alert for color changes where trails separate—color-blind hikers can get disoriented when marked trails cross.

CAIRN (ROCK DUCK)
Pyramid-shape stacks of rocks ranging from one to six feet tall. Expect larger piles in alpine or snowy terrain, or in areas with typically low- visibility conditions, like coastlines.

GUIDEPOST
Poles, fence posts, or any straight markers made of wood, concrete, metal, or plastic. Posts are often combined with number, color, or symbol codes (shown) to differentiate paths.


PAGE 1 2 3 4 5

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Jerry W Doyle
Nov 01, 2013

This article is one excellent reason I read Backpacker magazine and participate in the forum discussions. The articles and forum contributors present useful practical information for educating oneself to enjoy the outdoors. Please know that many trails in national forests, BLM lands, wildlife refuges and wilderness areas are not marked clearly. So, it becomes paramount to know how to use and interpret a topographical map in conjunction with a compass. One may also carry a GPS as a back-up for use with the compass and topo map. Additionally, since I am a solo hiker I always email my planned itinerary (with possible side trips) to no less than four separate family members and friends with instructions that if they do not hear back from me on my safe return by a specified date & time to alert the appropriate authorities to send out a S&R team. Always stay on or as close to the trail as possible while awaiting the S&R team's arrival. As the article wisely noted, never, NEVER, continue in the dark. To do so sets you up for a most likely injury that exacerbates an already bad situation into a life threatening situation. It is bad enough to be lost, but catastrophic to be injured and lost. If one knows how to read a topo map and how to use a compass, along with the GPS, then one will never be lost since you always can use these tools to pinpoint exactly where you are geographically. I support carrying a beacon particularly if you are hiking in wilderness areas such as Alaska, Canada, etc. where one can be days from civilization or the nearest roads. In these instances I also advise carrying a satellite phone for emergency use. I also support strongly AZ's comments about avoiding the sun when hiking in deserts and arid dry, hot climates. Seek shade often to let your body heat dissipate, and try to avoid hiking when the sun is at its highest over above you. Also, avoid getting wet and becoming dehydrated. Stay dry and layer clothing as needed and as appropriate.

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AZ Hiker
Nov 01, 2013

Thanks Backpacker, for showing us how to stay found and improve our chances of survival. It’s a good idea to pack at least three options for making fire when hiking. “Staying found” is yet another way to be safe in the outdoors. Learn how to use a compass by reading "Felix the Sugar Glider Be Safe Hike Smart" (Amazon). Remember to calibrate your compass to the declination at your camp site or hiking trail (http://magnetic-declination.com). A compass doesn't need satellites, a signal, or batteries and works in all types of weather, day or night, but you need to know how to use it and this book makes learning how to use a compass easy. Learn how to orient yourself using a compass, a compass and a map, no compass and a map, no compass and no map. The ability to know your way and know where you are is something we all need in any survival situation not just while hiking and camping. Learn how to stay found by paying attention to your surroundings. Learn what to pack for a day-hike, trail ethics, what to do if you get lost, how to get rescued, and survival packing (for the car and for the trail) just in case your camping trip extends into more nights than you planned on. Buy it on Amazon, "Felix the Sugar Glider Be Safe Hike Smart".

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AZ Hiker
Mar 19, 2013

Don't become a "missing hiker" --pack your own personal safety net; a copy of "Felix the Sugar Glider Be Safe Hike Smart" (Amazon) and a compass! Before you go, be sure to calibrate your compass for the declination at the location where you will be hiking. Go to: http://magnetic-declination.com A compass doesn't need a signal or batteries and works in all types of weather but you need to know how to use it and this book makes learning how to use a compass easy. Felix! explains how to orient yourself using a compass, a compass and a map, a map and no compass, no compass and no map. Look for it on Amazon, "Felix the Sugar Glider Be Safe Hike Smart." Anyone wanting to know direction and especially for those who want teach these skills to children might enjoy learning from this book. To feel more confident about orienting ourselves outdoors, we read thru this book before every hike - it's only about 34 pages and illustrated. The ability to know your way and know where you are is something we all need in any survival situation not just while hiking. Learn to stay found by using a compass and paying attention to your surroundings. Felix! teaches the reader what to pack for a day-hike, trail ethics, what to do if you get lost or scared, how to get rescued, and survival packing (for the car and for the trail) just incase you end up unexpectedly spending the night outdoors.

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May 24, 2012

And don't forget to read Felix! the Sugar Glider Be Safe Hike Smart (Amazon). Learn essential hiking skills and how to navigate your way with and without a map or compass. A fast, easy read that could maybe save your life but definitely will make your hike more enjoyable and safe!

Elflander
Jan 03, 2012

"—color-blind hikers can get disoriented when marked trails cross."
I was once lost for about a half hour on a short little trail in the Catskills because i just could not spot the deep red markers on the trees. Red/green color blindness is not that rare. Please, trail makers, do NOT use dark red markers. A lighter more orangy red would help but only when white, blue and bright yellow have been used up already. You could also use two shades of blue that are readily distinguishable and even color combinations( eg. blue & white). Anything but deep red.

YNPNan
Dec 31, 2011

I was struck with heat stroke on a hike in Tucson Mountain Park in June. One of the things that stuck in my head the whole time was to stay on the trail. I found a spot with "shade" next to the trail where someone could find me. No hikers came by but Search and Rescue was able to find me within a few hours. I followed my "stay on the trail" rule and stayed in sight even after I became confused and in and out of consciousness. I was lucky, they were able to capture my GPS signal after 2 hours of my calling 911. I only got through once but it was long enough. Another hour or so and I would have died.
Thanks SAR!!

YNPNan
Dec 31, 2011

I was struck with heat stroke on a hike in Tucson Mountain Park in June. One of the things that stuck in my head the whole time was to stay on the trail. I found a spot with "shade" next to the trail where someone could find me. No hikers came by but Search and Rescue was able to find me within a few hours. I followed my "stay on the trail" rule and stayed in sight even after I became confused and in and out of consciousness. I was lucky, they were able to capture my GPS signal after 2 hours of my calling 911. I only got through once but it was long enough. Another hour or so and I would have died.
Thanks SAR!!

Ralph from MD
Dec 30, 2011

Here's an idea. Place a written cardboard sign in back of the front windshield stating "If I Am Not Back By (such and such date) Please Call Emergency Rescue"

Anyone seeing your vehicle and sign may be of some help if you do get lost and are unable to find your way back.

R. P., Hiker of old
Dec 30, 2011

A few years back I was solo waterfalling and became lost. Fortunately, and I had never done this before, when I exited my vehicle I wrote down my GPS location in the trail guide book. After back and forth of trying to find the return trail, I noted my vehicles location and began trailblaizing toward my destination and came within 100 ft of my car. I now orient my car's location and carry and use orange barrier tape to denote turns and off trail events.

AZ Hiker
Dec 30, 2011

This article has some good tips about how to stay found by staying aware and knowing your location. A good book for both adults and kids is Felix! the Sugar Glider Be Safe Hike Smart avail on Amazon. This book teaches not get lost while navigating trails in the outdoors, and find your way using a compass, map, trail markers, landmarks, and the sun and stars!
A fun and interactive “Hike Smart Activities” section reinforces the story’s safe hiking tips. It includes an easy guide to using a compass with and without a map, using the sun and the stars to find your way and lists important items to keep in a survival kit.
The ability to know your way and know where you are is something we all need in any survival situation not just while hiking.

AZ Hiker
Dec 30, 2011

This article has some good tips about how to stay found by staying aware and knowing your location. A good book for both adults and kids is Felix! the Sugar Glider Be Safe Hike Smart avail on Amazon. This book teaches not get lost while navigating trails in the outdoors, and find your way using a compass, map, trail markers, landmarks, and the sun and stars!
A fun and interactive “Hike Smart Activities” section reinforces the story’s safe hiking tips. It includes an easy guide to using a compass with and without a map, using the sun and the stars to find your way and lists important items to keep in a survival kit.
The ability to know your way and know where you are is something we all need in any survival situation not just while hiking.

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