How to Rescue an Injured Hiker

Your partner can't go on. Should you stay–or go for help?

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When a friend goes down–whether it’s a broken leg or a snakebite–you have a potentially life-or-death decision to make. Go for help, or stay and help? The answer depends on everything from the nature of the injury to your location and the weather.

Make the call

  • Can you hike out safely? You don’t want to become a victim yourself. Wait for rescue if dark is approaching, the weather is bad, or you’re also injured.
  • Where are you? “In a well-traveled area, stay put, stay visible, and make noise,” says Tod Schimelpfenig, curriculum director for the Wilderness Medicine Institute. “In a remote area–especially if no one is coming to look for you–go for help [when conditions allow].”
  • What’s the nature of your friend’s injury? In a life-threatening emergency, go for medical help immediately. Exception: Reconsider if traveling will put your own life in danger. “There’s no point in both people dying,” says Ken Iserson, medical director of the Southern Arizona Rescue Association.

If you stay

  • Flag down rescuers with a flashlight, a signal mirror, or a fire.
  • Call 911 on your cell phone. Even without service, rescuers can sometimes locate a phone’s signal.

If you go

  • Leave the victim in stable condition, making sure he has shelter, food, and liquids (and a pee bottle, or cooking pot for women).
  • Leave a note in case someone else finds him unconscious. State when you left, your plan, and how others can help.
  • Take a map with your location marked.
  • Tell rescuers your friend’s age, gender, nature of injury, supplies, and exact location.