Hiking essentials web

After a second deadly hiking accident in two years I have updated this article with some more tips. Unfortunately if the hiker had followed the practices in the first version of this article he would have been found much sooner. The outcome could have been the same depending on what caused his death but at least the recovery could have been quicker so that the family could have had the result sooner. Up till now it is not known what actually caused his death. He was hiking along a trail that he had covered in the days before with family members. This time he was hiking alone. The fact that he didn't asked for assistance via his phone suggests that he got unconscious during the hike and that he did not regain consciousness (if ever) before his phone died. His exact or approximate location was not known so the search took several days before he was located.

In the frst version of this article I already covered a lot of safety measures and also ways of letting the people at home constantly know where you are. That is especially a necessity in case you are hiking on your own. The first article focussed on safety during the hike. The updates in this article are more focussed on some extras in case your hike takes (considerably) more time than expected.

What to take with you?

Important: the next list applies mainly if you hike on your own. If hiking with a guide you may assume that the hiking guide takes care of a number of these items like knowing the track, a first-aid kit, a means to repair your shoe if needed, etc. If you hike with friends check that at least one of the people in the group has a first-aid kit. Personal needs like water, phone, a light is always your own responsibility.

In the past I always used a belt pouch during the hike. That is convenient but doesn't have enough space to take everything with you for a longer hike. So I switched to a Camelbak M.U.L.E. That is a backpack with a detachable water reservoir. Mine has a capacity of almost 3 liter water when completely filled. The backpack should also have sufficient pouches to store the other essential items during the hike:

  • First of all sufficient water. I know my needs, so for a normal hike I need about 0.75 liters of water depending on the length of the hike. But to be prepared for accidents which could prolong the stay outside I always take considerably more water with me. It is always a compromise between how much water you want to take and the weight that you are prepared to carry during the hike. A good option is also to put another bottle of water in your car so you can replenish at the end of your hike.
    I like cold water so I fill my water reservoir with a lot of ice cubes and water. 
  • In the past I carried a very small EHBO-kit till I found out that it was not enough after I was bitten severely by a dog during my hike. So now I have a larger EHBO-kit in my backpack. This should at least contain:
    • some band aid for small injuries
    • tweezers to remove splinters
    • some gauze pads, gauze bandages and tape for larger injuries
    • a shear to cut the bandages and tape if needed
    • alcohol pads to disinfect
    • some antihistamine in case you get an allergic reaction from a plant or bee sting.
    • some paracetamol tablets (optional)
    • of course any medicine that you normally need during the time that you are hiking.
  • Some duct tape; I use this to repair a shoe sole that gets loose during the hike. I wound some duct tape around a small medicine bottle so that it takes not much space.
  • A (head) light in case it gets dark or you have to enter a dark cave
  • Pruning shears if you expect some plant obstruction on your path (optional)
  • Gloves in case you encounter dense shrubbery with thorns (optional)
  • A smartphone with GPS and hiking app
  • A powerbank to charge your phone if it dies during an unexpectedly longer hike
  • A charging cable to connect the powerbank to your phone
  • One or more small bites or fruits to give you extra energy if needed
  • Extra shoe lace(s) in case the one in use breaks (optional)

During the hike

  • If possible, don't hike alone (a rule that I frequently ignore myself espcecially since Covid-19)
  • Let the people at home or a contact person know where you will be hiking and when you expect to be back home; also if you are planning special activities such as cleaning up a path of doing a special photo session
  • Check the weather forecast so that you don't encounter unforeseen conditions during the hike
  • Activate live-tracking at the latest when starting the hike
  • Know your limits! Don't go on a hike that exceeds your abilities. Be extra careful when you encounter steep slopes up or down during the hike or when hiking close to the edge
  • Take a rest when you are tired
  • Drink sufficient water during the hike
  • Eat a snack when you feel the need
  • And, most importantly, enjoy your hike

In case of an emergency

Hiking is not a dangerous activity but there can always something unforeseen happen during the hike. You can trip and get injured so that further hiking is not possible without assistance. You can get disoriented so that you don't know how to get back. You can get unwell or even unconscious. Without help you are in immediate danger. Be always aware of this but also don't be overly cautious because then you will never again go on a hike. All these things can also happen when walking in the streets but in that case help is more readily available. 

When you hike with one or more other people you can rely on them to assist you in solving the problem. In case you hike alone you have to rely on yourself. In both cases your exact location is of importance to direct rescuers if needed. It is this last aspect that made me look at tools that can provide help in this situation.

Your phone is the most important tool in such a case. As long as you are conscious you can call for help. But when unconscious your phone is of no help unless an automated tool is active. 

I always use a tracking app on my phone. I use Locus Map Pro. Unfortunately this app is only available for Android based phones and not for iPhone. If you have an iPhone you should search for an app with a similar function for your phone.
I use Locus Map Pro to guide me during my hike based on tracks that I have recorded previously or that I have imported from other hikers. So this tracking app is always active during the hike. It is this app that also provides me with the option of "live tracking". A feature that I started using after the deadly hiking accident in August 2020.  When activated (and I have it set to start automatically when I start the tracking app) it sends every 15 seconds (or another self chosen interval) your exact location to a website. You have the option to post it publicly, so that everyone can see where you are, or in a private group (only people that know the passcode can see where you are). I have chosen to post publicly. With this live tracking function my wife or another contact person is always able to see where I am during my hike. If something happens the last location stays active for as long as the phone works. So, if I do not arrive at the expected time after the hike, my wife / contact person can check if I am still moving or that I am stuck somewhere. If I don't respond to a call then for sure something serious has happened and the rescue-organizations should be warned. Because of the live tracking function my exact location is known, so rescuers know where to find me.
This solution requires that you have an active Internet connection during the hike. The advantage is that no further interaction from your side is needed to show your exact location. So this also works if you are unconscious. 

A second tool does not need Internet but relies on SMS. It is based on "What 3 words". The whole world is divided in 9 x 9 feet squares, each with a unique combination of three words attached.

This app What3words is able to retrieve these 3 words based on your current GPS position. You can give these three words to the rescue organization or contact person during a call or you can send these from the app via SMS. The receiver of the SMS can click on the link in the SMS to know exactly where you are.
The only disadvantage of this tool is that you have to act yourself, so this does not work when you are unconscious or unable to use your phone.

Other common apps with a live tracking option

After publication of the first verion of this article and sharing it on my FB-page I received a number of very useful other apps with similar functionality to share your real time location:

  1. Whatsapp live location sharing. Whatsapp has a function to share your actual location during a period determined by you (max 8 hours) to people determined by you. This function requires an active Internet connection during the hike and also works if you are unconscious or unable to use your phone.  
    Click on this link to get more information how to activate this functionality.
  2. Google maps location sharing. Google Maps has functionality to share your actual location during a period determined by you to people determined by you. This function requires an active Internet connection and also works if you are unconscious. 
    Click on this link for more information how to activate this functionality.
  3. SOS function on iPhone and Android; these apps require some action from your side in case of an emergency, so they work only when your are still able to use your phone:
    1. on iPhone: https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT208076
    2. on Android phone: https://support.google.com/android/answer/9319337?hl=en#zippy=%2Cstep-turn-on-emergency-sos