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The Manual: Finding Lost Hikers

Turned around in the backcountry? Here are 33 essential tips to remember if you or your partner goes missing.
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Guidelines for Walking Out
If your best bet is to walk to safety, these two basic ground rules can maximize your chances of success:

1. Attempt to hike to a road.
Roads lead to towns, farms, houses, people. Start by following rivers downstream—stick to the bigger drainages. Sooner or later, a road will likely cross these streams. In general, trails heading away from mountains will likewise take you to roads.

2. Leave notes in obvious places.
Let searchers know of your intentions by placing notes, arrows made of rocks, a bright bandanna, or some other sign at trail junctions, on the edge of meadows, or by other noticeable landmarks.

Guidelines for Staying Put
If you know that people are going to come looking soon, your best bet is to find an obvious place and remain there until you are found. Get comfortable: Pick a spot protected from the elements, improvise a shelter, build a fire, and stay hydrated. The other main goal is to make yourself noticeable:

>> Flash mirrors or shiny objects.
Aircraft tend to notice these signals the most easily. First, look through the sighting hole and aim the mirror toward the sun until a fireball appears on the mirror’s reflective mesh. Adjust the mirror until the plane appears in the sighting hole, with the fireball on top of it. Tilt the mirror back and forth to flash. Lacking a signal mirror, use an outstretched hand to line up the plane with the reflection off any shiny object.

>> Blow a whistle or bang pots. These carry farther than your voice.

>> Build smoky fires during the day, blazing ones at night. Use green, wet wood and dry wood respectively.

>> In open spaces, make geometric patterns with bright objects. In nature, shapes like X’s stand out.

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