No one ever plans to get lost, but it does sometimes happen. Each year, Georgia’s park rangers spend numerous hours searching for hikers who did not return on time, slipped on waterfalls, got off the trail or encountered other problems. Follow these tips from the pros for a fun and safe hike.
- Avoid hiking alone because the “buddy system” is safer during any type of activity. If traveling with a group, never stray from the group. If hiking alone, pick a well traveled trail.
- Tell someone where you are going and when you will return. Don’t forget to check in with them when you get back.
- Stay on marked trails. Making shortcuts and “bushwhacking” causes erosion and greatly increases your chance of becoming lost. As you hike, pay attention to trail blazes (paint marks on trees) and landmarks. A double blaze indicates a change in trail direction or intersection, so be sure to follow the correct trail.
- Never climb on waterfalls. A high number of injuries and deaths occur on waterfalls and slippery, wet rocks.
- Always carry quality rain gear and turn back in bad weather. If you become wet or cold, it is important to get dry and warm as quickly as possible, avoiding hypothermia.
- Dress in layers and avoid cotton. Today’s hikers can choose from numerous fabrics that wick moisture, dry quickly or conserve heat. Many experienced hikers wear a lightweight shirt that wicks moisture, while carrying a fleece pullover and waterproof jacket in a daypack.
- All hikers should carry a whistle, which can be heard far away and takes less energy than yelling. Three short blasts is a sign of distress.
- Carry plenty of drinking water and never assume stream water is safe to drink. Frequent hikers might consider buying a water filter or water purifying tablets at an outdoor supply store.
- Don’t count on cell phones to work in the wilderness, but if they do, be able to give details about your location. Tell rescue personnel which trailhead you started from and how long you’ve been hiking.
- Don’t rely on a GPS to prevent you from getting lost. Batteries can die or the equipment can become damaged or lost.
- Invest in good hiking socks and boots such as those found at sporting goods stores. Avoid blisters by carrying “moleskin” (available at drug stores) and applying it as soon as you feel a hot spot on your feet. Available in the foot care section of drug stores, moleskin is like felt that sticks to your skin.
- Wear bright colors. Don’t dress children in camouflage.
Carry an Emergency Kit
Each hiker should have these items:
- First aid kit
- Small flashlight with extra batteries
- Energy food
- Brightly colored bandana
- Trash bag (preferably a bright color, such as “pumpkin bags” sold in autumn). Poke a hole for your head and wear it as a poncho to stay warm and dry.
- Aluminum foil. Strips can be tied into tree limbs to reflect searchlights. It can be molded into a bowl for water.
- Glowstick (to help searchers find you in the dark)
Especially for Children
- Talk to children about what to do if they become lost, no matter what the location (city or wilderness).
- Teach children to “hug a tree” and make a comfortable “nest.” This prevents wandering even further.
- Teach children that they won’t get into trouble for becoming lost.
- Reassure children that people (and possibly dogs and helicopters) will look for them if they become lost. Do not hide from searchers; answer their calls.
- Come up with a password that a child will respond to if a stranger needs to pick them up. Searchers can use this password.
- Do not be afraid of animals or strange noises. If something is scary, blow the whistle.
What to Do if You are Lost
- Stay put.
- Make shelter.
- Stay warm and dry.
- Be visible and heard.
- If helicopters are searching overhead, seek an opening rather than thick tree cover. Lie down so you look bigger from the air.