Search and Rescue Call out
Search and Rescue Call out

You’ve written a hiking trip plan and left it with a responsible adult. But you’re overdue and possibly incapacitated. Who should they call to activate a search and rescue effort to come looking for you? The answer might not be as obvious as you think.

In the United States, the best number to call to report an overdue hiker is 911 (if you’re in the same state as the hiker) or the State Police for the state in which the hiker was hiking. 911 will relay the call to the State Police troop closest to the rescue area and they’ll call in the designated Search and Rescue agencies responsible for coordinating and resourcing a search.

There’s a good reason to go through the State Police when reporting a missing hiker. They have the 24 x 7 response and communication infrastructure and staffing to call in the state agencies and volunteer groups that will mount a search. They’re also the best staffed and able organization, particularly in rural areas where they handle most of the emergency calls for service.¬†While it varies regionally, most of the search and rescue groups and stage agencies that staff SAR callouts don’t publish public phone numbers or answer them outside of business hours. That’s why you want to call 911 (if you’re in the same state as the hiker) or the State Police for the state in which the hiker is hiking. They’ll answer the phone and get the ball rolling.

Recommended Hiking Trip Plan Information

If you’re not in the habit of writing a hiking trip plan and giving it to someone before your trips, here’s a list of basic information that you’ll want to include. I’m a very experienced hiker and backpacker, but I still give my wife a trip plan for all of the non-urban solo and group hikes I go on.

  • Your name and cell phone number
  • Names and phone numbers of your companions
  • Date & time they should call for help if you haven’t returned or contacted them to say you’re safe
  • Phone number and agency they should contact if you’re overdue
  • Planned itinerary
    • Planned route (trail names and distances)
    • Campsites, if known in advance
  • Location of your parked vehicle (checked first to see if your vehicle is there or if you’ve already left the area)
  • Survival gear carried (shelter, insulation, fire making tools, fire-aid kit, etc)
  • Hiking experience and skills

The Limits of Satellite Beacons and Personal Locator Beacons

Does carrying SPOT GPS Satellite Messenger, a Garmin InReach, or a Personal Locator Beacon eliminate the need to leave a hiking trip plan with a responsible party? No. These devices won’t activate themselves or send emergency messages if you’re unconscious or incapacitated.

My advice: leave a trip plan with a responsible friend or family member and concise instructions for who they should call if you’re overdue.

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