As a park ranger and naturalist, I am often asked what are the most important things you should have should you get lost while hiking. So in collaboration with other rangers and outdoorsmen, we have created a top ten list.
1. Food – Don’t ever go out without something to eat in your pack, whether it’s a half or even full day hike. I like to pack those protein bars; you’re not likely to eat them unless you are in an emergency.
2. Water – Bring at least a quart for a half-day hike, more for a full day or on a hot and dry day. Know where water can be replenished on your hike and what to do to make it safe.
3. Shelter – Afternoon thunderstorms or an unexpected cold front can leave a lost hiker suffering from hypothermia. A good raincoat is a great shelter against unexpected rain or cold. I also keep a large trash bag in my pack for emergency shelter.
4. Matches/Lighter – A lost hiker will want to build a fire for warmth, comfort, and perhaps signaling. Although we see those survival guys on TV using flints or friction to build their fires, a lighter is lightweight and way easier to use.
5. Pocketknife –Most lost hikers are found within 24 hours, so you won’t need to be hunting or even fighting off the wild animals. A pocketknife with a sharp blade is all most hikers will need.
6. First Aid Kit – Pack along a few essentials: band aids, an ace bandage, your daily meds, and some antibiotics.
7. Map and Compass – Never go anywhere new without a decent map of the area. Learn to use a compass and keep it in your daypack. They’re cheap, reliable, lightweight, and work without batteries. GPS are great, but should the battery go, you’re lost.
8. Flashlight – Many lost hikers are what we referred to in the Smokies as simply misplaced. They have become delayed or took a wrong turn and wound up on the wrong trail. Rangers are sent backwards down the trail to catch the delayed hiker often finding them hiking in the dark. A lightweight flashlight or headlamp will make any travel after dark or the evening in your emergency shelter a lot more bearable.
9. Rope – 25 feet of parachute cord is light, small, and indispensable in an emergency. It can be used to whip up a shelter, hold a pot over a fire, or help rig a splint in an emergency. Throw a length into your pack.
10. Whistle – The blast from a good whistle will travel further than a human voice and won’t get absorbed by the forest. It is the best way to signal your location to searchers. Tie one onto your pack and if you hike with kids, put one around each of their necks. Years ago we had a 10-year-old boy lost in the Smokies for 3 days. When he was found, he told searchers he had heard them the first night, but they never heard his screams. A whistle would have had him home that first night.
Wait, no cell phone? Yup, of course there is the battery issue, but more important is that many locations in our national parks, forests, and wilderness areas are not cell-phone friendly. I carry mine with me, but I wouldn’t trade it for any of the things in my top ten list.
“Another Broad-winged” the bespectacled lounger shouted out.
“Make that three” another spoke out.
I followed their gaze skyward and spotted small black dots. I tried my binoculars.
Larger black dots. I’m instantly impressed with these people’s bird identification skills.
I’m on top of Hawk Mountain in Kempton, Pennsylvania in mid-September. Dotted on every nearly horizontal surface of North Lookout is a chair where a bundled and binocular-ed bird watchers sits scanning the skies overhead. A uniformed volunteer is the counter and the recipient of the shouts. In her notebook, she keeps a tally of the species and numbers of hawks as they are spotted. The spotters constantly converse about bird numbers and locations to make sure that they are not reporting the same birds. I join the ranks of the dumbfounded. We form a loose bond by helping each other see what the seasoned spotters are identifying.
Such a scene is taking place all over the country this month and next. Hawks, turkey vultures, falcons, eagles and songbirds are concentrating along the pathways of their ancestors, heading south for a dependable food supply before winter sets in. These pathways, called flyways, often follow ridges where updrafts and thermals help the birds conserve energy on their long flights. Hawk Mountain is located along the Appalachian Flyway and averages sightings of 17,925 raptors per year.
Certain locations and weather conditions allow you to see the birds much more closely as they follow the mountaintop where you may be perched. Here is a website of the Hawk Migration Association of North America to find a location near you. Bring your binoculars and maybe a lightweight chair or just spread out on your back and watch skyward. Your hike up the mountain may be rewarded many-fold.
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