What to Do in an Emergency When Hiking

They often say that prevention is better than cure, and never is this truer than when you’re on an outdoors expedition. Using your best judgement and following standard precautionary practices is necessary to avoid accidents, injuries and emergency situations.

No one wants to find themselves in a situation in the great outdoors – an umbrella term for the ‘middle of nowhere’ in this case – where they need to call for emergency help. However, it’s vital that everyone is prepared for such a scenario, no matter the likelihood of it happening.

Here’s what you should do if you require emergency services while taking part in outdoor activities, such as walking, climbing or kayaking.

First Things First

Let Others Know Your Rough Co-ordinates

Always tell someone where you plan on going before setting out to your destination. Notify family or friends of your expected whereabouts and leave a brief description of the route and your expected time of return. This is the most basic precaution to take, and also the first.

There are plenty of cases where hikers or hillwalkers fail to inform their kin where they intend to venture, and if trouble rears its head, no one will be able to raise the alarm in good time or have an immediate inkling as to where you could be situated. Especially if you’re venturing into the wilderness alone, make sure to leave details of your trajectory with someone who you can trust to call if you’re gone for too long.

If moving in groups, the risks are lower but this precaution still very much applies.

Get Equipped

Before you head off, make sure you’ve made a sensible decision based on the weather forecasts and awareness of your level of experience.

Throughout the UK, there are many incidents each year of amateur hillwalkers attempting to climb mountains with inappropriate clothing, equipment and a lack of skills and experience to make it to the top successfully.

Arm yourself with the basics at the barest minimum: a solid waterproof jacket, waterproof trousers, base layers and fleece or thermal layers, a hat, gloves, thermal socks and sturdy waterproof boots, and an ice axe and crampons or traction aids if ice and snow are expected.

Better Safe than Sorry

1 – Emergency Whistle

We would recommend buying a whistle when hiking for emergency purposes. It’s better to be safe rather than sorry… right? Especially if you’re setting out by yourself. Our Blast emergency whistle features a coloured cord and adjustable clip so that you’re able to put it around your neck or clip it onto your pocket for quick access. As the name says, the noise that comes from this lightweight device is surprisingly loud and could be heard from just about anywhere. We also have an aluminium whistle set that have been designed as keyrings, one in a bright lime green and magenta, making it easy to distinguish between the two. Ideal for use in any emergency, the whistles can be used if dry or wet and are extremely durable and long-lasting.

2 – Emergency Foil Blanket

An emergency blanket is referred to as a first aid blanket, used in emergencies to reduce heat loss in a person’s body caused by thermal radiation, water evaporation and convection. The foil material Kelvalite is an ultra-insulting material constructed from polyester film with a vaporized metallic coating on both sides.

3 – Survival Bag

If the worst happens, the Radiator survival bag is a great product to have on hand in emergency situations. With survival instructions printed on the bag to take you through what to do and to help you keep calm. Designed in a hi-vis luminous orange, the Radiator will keep you visible to passers-by and mountain rescue will help locate you from afar.

4 – Led Head Torch

If you’re planning a sunrise hike, we would recommend an LED head torch. Our 250LM focused and wide beam torch features 5 tilt positions which is perfect for shedding light on your path ahead. A wide beam also gives you an indication of what’s going on around you as well as in front of you which gives you some peace of mind whilst being out after dark.

Trespass customer-favourite –

Louise H.

5/5 stars

I’m very pleased with it and can’t understand why I hadn’t thought about buying one years ago.

A good-quality, detailed map of the area you’ll be tackling should also be on your list of priority items to have, as well as a compass and a torch. Maps should ideally be carried in map protectors as you never know what the weather might bring, and a wet map will spell disaster.

Mountain rescue teams can be overloaded at peak times of the year, especially the New Year period in winter. When conditions are extremely hostile, volunteers have to scale up hills and mountains to reach the ones in difficulty, so spare a thought for these souls and ascertain you’re professionally prepared for such an undertaking. You’ll be doing yourself and others a massive favour!

Know When to Say No

Be prepared to be flexible with your plans. It’s an absolute must to check the weather forecast thoroughly before departing. Don’t simply rely on generalised national forecasts, use the Mountain Weather Information Services to gauge an accurate picture of what conditions you’ll be facing.

Extremely cold weather, storms, icy winds and blizzards can all be major red flags to experienced hillwalkers, let alone novices.

If you’re not an expert and the weather looks like it’s going to be bad, look for an alternative adventure rather than plunging into the deep end with a naively hopeful attitude. Postponing doesn’t mean cancelling, so you’ll be able to enjoy your pursuit much more if you align your expectations with the conditions present.

Have an Action Plan

If after taking all these precautions you do still end up in an emergency situation, you should know what to do. Emergency situations instigate panic and anxiety even in the best of us, and it’s hard to think clearly and rationally when you’re chilled to the bone and exhausted. Have a plan of action in case something goes wrong, and familiarise yourself with the steps you should take and information you should possess to alert others in the event of an emergency situation.

What Number to Call

The two phone numbers you should know to use are 999 or 112. 112 will place an emergency call anywhere in the world, while 999 is specific to the UK. However, both work in the same way in the UK and are free to call, so when you dial any, the line will go straight through to the police. The police are responsible for organising mountain rescue, and they will decide whether you require police assistance, an ambulance, coastal rescue, the fire brigade or mountain rescue services.

An agreement between mobile operators means that you can dial 999 even if you have no network coverage from your provider because another provider will get you connected. When placing your call, however, remember that while you can call 999 out, emergency services will not be able to call you back.

The Power of Text

If you find yourself in an area where your phone does not have a signal, you can still use SMS texting technology to contact the emergency services. Because SMS uses a different technology to transmit messages, as opposed to voice and data technology, it doesn’t require the same quality of reception.

SMS texting transmission is very fast and even with just one second of poor reception, the SMS will be sent. To use this special service, you must first register with the emergency SMS service.

To register with the emergency SMS service:

  1. Send the word ‘register’ in an SMS message to 999
  2. You will then receive SMS messages about the service
  3. When you have read these SMS messages reply by sending ‘yes’ in an SMS message to 999
  4. You will receive an SMS message telling you that your mobile phone is registered or if there is a problem with your registration.

Be aware that the text service may take longer than a normal 999 call and it should only be used as a last resort – for example, if calling 999 and talking out loud would put you in further danger.

Your text to 999 must include as much information as possible while being as clear and concise. Make sure you say which emergency service you need, a brief description of the emergency and your location (with grid references if you know them).

Once you’ve sent your text you will receive a response which will either ask for further details or say that help is on the way. EmergencySMS advise not to assume your message has been received if you do not receive a reply.

It can take up to two minutes to get a reply to your initial message, but if you have not received a reply within three minutes, it’s best to send another text straight away.

How to Make an Emergency or Distress Signal

It’s essential to be completely aware of how to make an emergency or distress signal in case you’re trapped in a situation where you’re physically incapable of contacting emergency services, or your communication devices aren’t functional.

Carry a torch and whistle with you at all times – these basic gadgets have the ability to pull you out of a difficult scenario.

The international distress signal is made by six blasts of a whistle, with an interval of one minute after every six blows. If your blasts are picked up by someone, you should expect to hear three whistles back. If there is no response, keep repeating this six-whistle-blast procedure to further draw attention to your location.

Mountain rescue teams and helicopters may take some time to reach you, so don’t stop using the whistle until you’re certain that help is directly on its way to you. This should be as obvious as spotting a group of rescuers making their way towards you and trying to make contact, or a helicopter attempting to land close to your position.

If a whistle isn’t available and you’ve got a torch instead, follow the same rule of thumb: six flashes of the torch followed by a minute’s break, and continuous torch flashes at intervals of one minute if there is no immediate response.

Take good care with shining the torch for help. Torches should never be flashed directly in someone’s eyes, and neither should they be flashed directly at helicopters. Point the torch towards the ground so that the pilot’s vision is not disturbed, and his night vision equipment is not affected by the bright light.

GPS Locator

These days, most smartphones have an integrated GPS, so it should be possible to find out your exact location as an OS grid reference. You could purchase a navigation app such as OS Maps or ViewRanger. There are also free GPS apps you could use, such as the Android app, GPS Test.

In this way, you’ll be able to give your exact coordinates to the emergency services to help them locate you quickly and easily.

Personal Locator Beacons (PLBs)

Personal Locator Beacons (PLBs) are personal safety devices which when activated, send out a distress signal via satellite, as well as an identification code. More advanced units have a GPS receiver and also track your location in terms of latitude and longitude.

There are also Satellite Emergency Notification Devices (SEND) and SPOT Messengers that will alert emergency services using satellite technology, so they work beyond the range of mobile phone stations.

Crisis Management

In the event of a casualty, it’s important to put your crisis management skills to use and take control of the situation.

Administering First Aid

If possible, always carry at least a miniature version of the classic first aid box with you. This will be of inestimable value if someone gets hurt or needs medical assistance. Being well-versed in giving first aid is a great skill to have, especially if the victim happens to be you.

The most common emergency situations you can find yourself in outdoors are when someone experiences an injury from the activity they’re pursuing, whether it’s a fall from climbing, a broken ankle from scrambling, or even hypothermia from wearing unsuitable clothing to reach the summit of a mountain.

In case of injury, always try to attend to any wounds until proper medical care arrives. You can find a general list of first aid instructions according to emergency type on the NHS website.

Waiting for Help

Whether it’s you or someone else who’s injured or experiencing an emergency, stay calm as much as possible and try to think rationally of the next steps to take. The waiting game can be a difficult one if you or others are in distress, but managing your emotions can prove beneficial in situations like these.

Reassure the victim that help is on its way and attend to their needs, making sure they are as comfortable and warm as possible in the circumstances.