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It is good practice on a hiking or backpacking trip to leave a written plan behind with someone. Then if you fail to return by your estimated date Search and Rescue will have an idea of where to look for you.

Besides the your expected return date, what should go in your written plan and how detailed should it be?

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The purpose of the plan is to help rescuers find you. So include:

  • your planned route - this could just be a photocopy of a map with a route drawn on in marker, or "the blah blah trail".
  • identifying details. When we go into the Algonquin backcountry by canoe, the permit station asks for the colours of our tents and canoes.
  • if you are carrying any kind of contact device (cell phone, satellite phone etc) the number of it, so people can either try calling you to ask why you're late, or correlate you to that text message or disconnected 911 call from the day you were supposed to return

Imagine someone looking for you - what do they need to know? They don't care that you're a strong swimmer or are allergic to shrimp. They don't need a picture of you - anyone close enough to you to see your face can also determine whether you need to be rescued or not. But knowing you have a blue tent and a large white tarp might help them decide which campsite the helicopter should swing by for a closer look.

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    I'd add to that: any medical or related information that might be useful or necessary in an emergency - this might include recurring medication (obviously you can carry extra but there are limits to how much). Some allergies (to medication) may be worth noting, though these would probably be better attached to your person. – Chris H Mar 21 '17 at 20:10
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To expand on an earlier answer, and what the OP himself mentions, I will add a few more elements.

First, the count of persons on the trip. The rescuers need to know when they are done. If they've found four people and five went on the trip, for example, that means they keep searching. Add notes of any relevant medical information about each person, such as diabetic, heart condition, mobility issues, and so on.

Next, a broad inventory of what equipment you have, to give some indication of how well prepared you are to aid your own survival and rescue. If you went out for what should have been a day hike without a tent and only a small lunch, for example, it might indicate a greater sense of urgency then if you went out for a week long trip with full kit.

Finally, it may be useful to provide a description of your vehicle(s), to include license plate numbers, and at what trail head you will be parked. As a former member of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, we would request this information when receiving a report of an overdue vessel, especially if the boat was launched from a trailer at a ramp. We would send someone by car to that ramp to look for the tow vehicle and trailer, to verify the boat had not been recovered at the ramp. Even for a boat at a marina, we might call that marina and ask if the owner's car was still in the parking lot. The same concept applies to an excursion in the woods instead of the waters. The rescuers will send someone to the trail head parking area to verify you have not returned to your vehicle.

For further guidance, here is a sample float plan from the USCGAux, and here is a similar form for hikers from Los Angeles County Sheriff Department.

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