I am hiking in the wilderness, a round trip to civilization and back is at least 24 hours.

I know where I am and I can return to the same spot.

If my hiking partner dies, how can/should I protect the body while I go to get the authorities?

I want to protect my partner's body while I am gone, what can/should I do?

  • 35
    The existence of this question makes me uncomfortable. It would make me much more uncomfortable if I were your hiking partner.
    – Tin Wizard
    Feb 20, 2017 at 19:21
  • 5
    I don't think this type of question is a good fit for outdoors.SE. IMO it's silly and a waste of time to talk about these purely hypothetical questions.
    – user2169
    Feb 20, 2017 at 19:36
  • 16
    @BenCrowell People die in the wilderness every year. Multiple bodies were found playing Pokemon Go. It is unlikely, but certainly not unheard of. Feb 20, 2017 at 19:46
  • 17
    @BenCrowell Show some compassion. I think there are a lot of silly questions on this site and this is not one of them. Injury and death in the outdoors is actually quite common. A friend of mine lost his girlfriend just climbing down pretty simple rock field and he had to leave her and hike out for help.
    – paparazzo
    Feb 20, 2017 at 21:18
  • 4
    @imsodin But it is very related to first aid. We covered death when I took wilderness first aid.
    – paparazzo
    Feb 20, 2017 at 21:42

5 Answers 5


Most importantly, the living are more important than the dead. Check your scene safety, something killed that person and you want to make sure that it won't kill you as well.

I can't imagine that you will be alright, your partner just died. Emotionally, your thinking will probably be off, take extra care because of that. I would document what had happened in writing and take pictures, but not disturb the body as there may be an investigation.

Then I would very carefully hike out, realizing that you are going to be upset and your decision making skills will probably not be at their best. Take extra time, go around obstacles, don't let your grief get you into stupid situations.

If possible it might be better to ask someone not from your group to carry the message and your location out to the authorities, as they will be less emotionally affected by the death and would probably make better decisions because of that.

Then when the authorities come in, you can walk out with them.

  • 3
    I don't understand - 17 upvotes and it doesn't even try to answer the question.
    – Spacedman
    Feb 21, 2017 at 18:10
  • 3
    @Spacedman It answers the question of what to do if your partner dies on you in the backcountry, I don't think that you should do anything with the body because its going to be investigated. So the answer to the should I do anything part of the question is no Feb 21, 2017 at 18:48

The other answers seem good, however there's an extremely important step they have missed.

Make sure the person is dead!

(And no I don't mean by stabbing them).

Some injuries are clearly fatal but it's entirely possible that someone who is ill/ poisoned/ injured/ hypothermic/ suffering from blood loss/etc may seem dead but actually be alive. You need to get medical professionals on the case as fast as possible and doing so may save their life. Even hospitals and doctors make this mistake from time to time, for example see this article.


This sounds like a macabre version of one of those teambuilding exercises.

As noted above, your emotions will be going haywire and you won't think clearly. You'll probably stay with your fallen friend for some time before you get your thoughts in order.

  • First priority is your safety
  • Second priority is immediate first aid
  • Third priority is communication (if you have a communication method), seek and follow further advice from the authorities)
  • Fourth priority is to continue to administer first aid until you're absolutely sure of the situation

If your friend is undoubtedly dead, then your own safety becomes paramount. If you can't safely get to the body, then you can only leave it in situ until you get the authorities there (by whatever means).

In the unlikely event the body is in the open and readily to hand, then practically speaking, protecting the dignity of your friend (and family) is most important.

If you have no means of contacting the authorities from where you are and have to travel some distance to gain help/communication:

I'd empty his/her back-pack and insert the body's head/shoulders as far as they'll go. Secure the opening as tight as possible with his/her belt (if predators get to the body, they'll start with the more accessible parts). You can then cover the remains with branches/foliage/rocks/whatever in an effort to protect from predation. Protecting the head/upper chest also preserves any evidence for any subsequent medical investigation.

Mark the location of the cairn as clearly as possible (use a nearby tree or rock that won't be dislodged by predators).

Use the remaining contents of the back-pack to help mark your route back to the closest, easiest, route to a communications point (where you get a cell signal or people).

Don't forget to mark your exact location on a map before you set off.

If you have communication equipment:

Obviously, use the equipment and stick with the body - direct the authorities to you unless instructed otherwise.

Note: I have no experience or training to back this up. It just seems appropriate.


Stay with the body until authorities arrive.

If there are no other people around: call the police using your mobile phone (near civilisation) or satellite phone (far from civilisation). If you don't have a satellite phone, you might consider activating your Personal Locator Beacon (PLB). I would not want to hike out leaving the body of a hiking partner behind. Firstly, I would be severely distressed. Secondly, I would want to guard the body against animals.

If you are in a frequented area, ask somebody to carry the message for you, as Charlie says in his answer.

  • 3
    Why activate a PLB if there is no immediate threat? Feb 21, 2017 at 2:43
  • 12
    @CharlieBrumbaugh I would consider any situation in which someone died an emergency. Satphone or finding other hikers is preferable but under sich distress I would not trust myself to hike out on my own.
    – gerrit
    Feb 21, 2017 at 10:23
  • I don't think this is a good answer to the question. It essentially says don't go any farther into the outdoors then you can maintain communication with civilization. While not explicitly in the question I thought that lack of communication with civilization was implied. Feb 22, 2017 at 10:41
  • 2
    @JamesJenkins I never go farther into the outdoors than I can maintain communication with civilisation. When I go beyond mobile phone reach on long, remote trips where I expect to meet very few people, I bring a satellite phone for safety.
    – gerrit
    Feb 22, 2017 at 12:42

One problem is going to be predators, scavengers, and insects eating the body. In the extreme they might drag the body off and you cannot find it.

They are dead - there is no a big hurry. Preserve the body for the funeral is an important task.

You are not likely to have a full size shovel to bury them.

I would wrap them in sleeping bags, clothes, tent, tent poles, ... ropes. Once they're all wrapped up, you could put them in the shade.

If you had climbing gear could hang them from a tree by harness, feet, or under arms. Unless they weigh less than or you had a pulley system then could not do it.

If on a glacier then bury them in the snow. Alone you can not move a body very far.

A live body you might try to extract if you had 4+ but a dead body the common advice is to leave and go for a rescue party.

  • 9
    No. Don't. Outweigh your feelings for the person, for the body and for yourself. There'll be some investigation about the death. The less you touch the body, the better. Hanging a dead body and just coming to the police to say "hey, a friend of mine died in the forest, I just hang his/her body to protect it" will sound very weird. Feb 20, 2017 at 20:56
  • 5
    @woliveirajr You really think I meant hang by the neck? I would do what I could to protect the body out of honor for the person and their loved ones. Concern for proving my innocence would not even be on my mind.
    – paparazzo
    Feb 20, 2017 at 20:59
  • 1
    @woliveirajr You hang bear bags to protect food - I don't think they would think that is weird. And I would go to the ranger station unless I came to a police station first.
    – paparazzo
    Feb 20, 2017 at 21:05
  • 1
    I was also thinking about hanging the body from a tree with a loop under the arms, to get it up off the ground. I would not hang them upside down, Livor mortis would do unpleasant things to their head/face. Feb 21, 2017 at 10:18

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