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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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No surprise: The main task of search-and-rescue teams is finding wayward hikers. In our new book, BACKPACKER’S Outdoor Survival ($13, falconguides.com), excerpted here, author Molly Absolon advises what to do if you or a friend goes missing.

Ways to Stay Found
1. Note the landmarks you pass. Do the mountains trend north-south? Are there major features that can keep you clued in to the cardinal directions? Describe aloud the shape of the hills, and look over your shoulder to get another perspective.
2. Pick out handrails and landings. Handrails are features, such as valley walls (A) or a river, that act as a barrier, keeping you on the correct line of travel. Landings are places where things change—like a trail junction, a river crossing, or a mountain saddle (B). Once you encounter that landing, your handrails will change.
3. Look at the landscape before consulting your map. When you’re tired, it’s easy to look at your map and decide you’re close to your destination. To avoid this trap, first identify key points, like a lake inlet, a low pass, or a prominent mountain, and then locate them on the map. Only then try to home in on your location.
4. Keep track of time. Note when you leave camp and what time you pass major terrain features, so you have a sense of your pace and what time you should expect to arrive at your destination.
5. Stay together while hiking. You don’t have to hike lockstep with your companions, but you should have a system for staying in contact. That may mean having a designated leader out front and someone else bringing up the rear; keeping everyone in view when crossing open areas; or agreeing to rendezvous at decision points, like trail junctions or river crossings.
6. Know your campsite. Memorize its surroundings, especially if it’s in the trees.
7. Practice map, compass, and GPS often. It’s easy for navigational skills to get rusty.

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