A reader C.E. Harris sent me this article about staying in touch while out hiking or camping. These same principals will work under many different situations.
An essential safety step to any outdoor activity is letting a responsible person know where you are going, when you expect to return, and who to call, such as the sheriff to initiate a SAR (Search and Rescue) mission, if they don’t hear from you by a date and time certain. This is the same as a private pilot filing a flight plan.
On short hikes and hunting trips in our local area we carry a cell phone and ham radio 2-meter band transceiver, (for which we are licensed). We make arrangements with a radio amateur for us to check in nightly, to advise that we are OK or to update any adjustments to our status, routing or schedule.
On backcountry trips beyond radio repeater or cell phone coverage, we take a portable, battery-operated single-sideband HF (High Frequency) radio with wire antenna and matching network to set up a check-in schedule on the 40-meter band which gives trans-continental coverage in daytime. If not licensed for ham radio, the best options may be to rent either a satellite phone or personal locator beacon.
If you want to buy a sat phones refurbished Globalstar units start at about $400. Buyer beware that most companies offer tempting low-cost initial plans ( often less than $50/mo.) which are designed to appeal to former cell phone users. Once that introductory great deal expires, the sticker-shock on your subsequent bills may indeed kill the faint of heart and wallet!. Use it only for emergencies!
Another option is to rent a personal locator beacon or PLB. These cost about $30-50 per week from REI and similar outdoor stores. “Satellite 911” may provide a false sense of security and does not substitute for adequate pre-planning and caution. If you activate the PLB unnecessarily, you could be billed for the cost of emergency response! For more detailed information on PLBs see:
If travelling where we don’t know the locals, we leave a trip plan envelope with the local sheriff’s office. This contains description(s) of our vehicle(s), the number of people in our party, with name, equipment, outdoor skill level, where we will park, foil impressions of our boot prints, description of our itinerary, cell phone numbers, ham radio repeaters we use or working frequencies for communications schedules. We also leave a partially completed SAR Form 201B with the info needed to initiate a search, if we miss two check-in schedules
An advantage of having a ham license is that several times when we have been hunting a new area, sheriff’s deputies would assign a volunteer radio amateur who was a member of their Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service (RACES). This gave us a local contact person to call for daily Personnel Accountability Reports or “PAR-checks” – using the common terminology of fire services. This practice blizzard paid off big time during a blizzard when we got snowed in and our 4WD vehicles were unable to make it out as planned. A radio contact to the RACES station advised that we were holed up in camp, everyone was OK, we had plenty of firewood and food, and were waiting out the storm. The RACES member relayed a phone call home to advise our wives that we wouldn’t be at work on Monday, but not to worry. But then the snow continued, so RACES used us to coordinate an exercise, using a radio-equipped snow mobile group with a SAR team to bring us out. We left our two 4WD vehicles in the woods, and came back to get them after the snow melted. Inconvenience, but no disaster. The most successful SAR mission is the one you plan for ahead of time, where everybody gets home alive.