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Coming up with emergency information for a recent trip got me thinking: What information should you leave with your emergency contact?

I imagine the answer depends on the length of the trip, remoteness of the area, how much your plans are set in stone, etc... Some things I ended up coming up with:

  • Expected departure and return
  • Date & time to consider overdue
  • Equipment information: color of clothing, packs/tents, helmets/ropes/climbing, etc...
  • Rough itinerary
  • List of potential hikes/climbs/etc..
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    If you're backpacking or planning on switching locations during your trip, I would recommend listing your itinerary with both locations and times, or perhaps even including a map of your backpacking route with planned campsites.
    – pheidlauf
    Commented Aug 19, 2014 at 20:27
  • I'll suggest reviewing the form over on reconn.org; we created it for just this purpose. (Using the PDF version, you can save a mostly-filled in copy and update the trip details for each trip.)
    – requiem
    Commented Aug 20, 2014 at 4:59
  • This is going to be slightly country dependant. There is going to be a big difference between getting lost in the New Forest in the UK and Rockies in the US!
    – user2766
    Commented Aug 20, 2014 at 8:34
  • You need to leave the name of your primary contact with your emergency hiking contact, if they are not the same. By primary contact, I mean the person who will arrange for extended care of your animals, and who knows your doc and your lawyer, where you keep your will, and who will arrange the funeral you prefer -- all that fun stuff.
    – ab2
    Commented Jul 28, 2021 at 20:29
  • Fingerprints and DNA sample just in case you get too seriously injured to be easily identified. Commented Jul 29, 2021 at 2:52

4 Answers 4

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If something goes wrong, the information you provide your emergency contact will be the starting point for the information Search and Rescue groups use to look for you. Much of this information will remain the same for multiple trips and some will be trip-specific. The items I list won't be comprehensive, but rather a selection of items from an online trip-report form that was created for just this purpose. Thus, you can prepare in advance a packet with most of the information and just update the trip details each time you head out.

Identity Information

  • Name, age, sex, height, weight, hair and eye color.
  • Colour of outer clothing likely to be worn.
  • Any medical conditions, medications, or allergies?
  • A recent picture of yourself.

Skills

  • Are you a skilled hiker, a novice kayaker, regularly climb 5.13 trad or stick only to trails?
  • How much first aid knowledge do you have? What about navigation and survival knowledge?

Emergency procedure

Your emergency contact should know when you will be definitely overdue, and who to call for assistance.

A definite time helps avoid undue delay and unexpected/unwanted rescue when you thought you were well within the expected time.

Although it's always possible to call 112 (or other emergency number), a swifter response will usually be obtained if you can provide a number to call that's specific the area where you'll be.

Make sure your contact knows what to expect when calling the emergency service (e.g. in the UK, mountain and cave rescue is initiated by Police, but for maritime rescue, we need to ask for Coastguard instead).

Transport

Are you taking a car, bus, train, plane, or llama to the trailhead? For personal vehicles, the make, model, color, and license plate number are helpful. (If you take a bus, the driver or other passengers might remember you.)

Itinerary

A map with your expected route highlighted is most convenient. Alternate routes, expected campsites, and potential side trips should also be noted. You should have a rough idea when you'll start, when you'll return, and generally how quickly you cover ground.

Communications

What navigation or signalling equipment do you have? If a PLB, is it registered? If a cell phone or two-way satellite messenger (InReach, Spot, etc.), what type is it and what's the contact information? Is there a URL where it displays its location? Other communications equipment you might be carrying could be a torch or signal flares.

Equipment

You don't need to list every item, but larger items are easier to spot and smaller items may be found by searchers. An easy way to inventory is to simply lay everything out on the floor and take a picture. While you're doing this, it's also good to note your shoe size, model, and include a picture of the soles.

Rescuers will also likely be interested in the things that will affect your ability/rate of progress - e.g. crampons, torch, spare paddle.

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  • Personally, I have a few files online with the relevant information, but blocked off with a robots.txt file and nothing pointing to them--you need to know the URL to get to them. The only thing that changes is the time & place. Commented Jul 30, 2021 at 23:09
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These two you mentioned are very important.

  • Expected departure and return
  • Date & time to consider overdue

Just saying what time you're expected back isn't enough. If I'm going in an area that has any level of danger, I tell people when I expect to make contact, and when to call 911.

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Obviously, the more specific you can be about what route you'll actually be taking the better, but the most important detail is nailing down the trailhead or launch point you're going to begin your trip from. This usually establishes a good starting point to work from in any kind of emergency.

You should establish the time that you expect to return, your emergency contact should use good judgement to determine wether or not you're overdue. If you're going on a seven day backpacking excursion, it wouldn't be unreasonable for you to end up needing an extra day. But if you're just doing a 2 hour loop on a Sunday morning and you're nowhere to be seen come dinner time, then it's time to sound the alarm now isn't it.

Other than that, just the usual list: itinerary, colors of clothing and equipment, whether or not you have a GPS or a radio, etc ( which you probably should ). You get the idea. The more accurate your information is, the better your chances of receiving help in an emergency.

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    Regarding a radio: if using an FRS/GMRS radio, it might be useful to note what channel (and privacy code if applicable) your radio is on. Then if you get lost, you can set it to that channel and there's a chance that you would be able to communicate with rescuers.
    – nhinkle
    Commented Aug 19, 2014 at 21:13
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The single best, most important, piece of information is your location (or your last/latest known location). Most of the time now this information can be provided with a cell phone. OBVIOUSLY YOU DONT ALWAYS HAVE CELL SERVICE, but most of the time you probably do. Using a free app like Real-Time GPS Tracker is orders of magnitudes better than any other strategy.

For a lot of places I go, I am out of cell service, but I usually have service to the trail head and on top of hills or peaks so that maybe they don't have my exact location, but they can get pretty damned close. This could mean hours versus days of searching.

Alternatively, you can buy GPS transponders that use satellite communications. This means you can send you location from anyway to a rescue team. But these are expensive to buy and also require a monthly service fee.

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    PLBs are not expensive and don't require a monthly fee.
    – user2169
    Commented Jul 31, 2021 at 2:55

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