Wilderness Texting

A note left for another hiker in Colorado.

On a recent adventure into the Colorado wilderness, we came along the note above. One hiker was communicating to the group that they were taking an alternate route and would meet them at base camp in a few days. While this may seem unusual in today’s world of text messages and wide cell phone coverage, this is a mode of communication all in the back country should be prepared for.

Given the terrain of our location (high mountains with narrow valleys), cell coverage was sparse at best. Anyone planning on communicating via cell phone would be disappointed at best and have their life endangered at worst. There are a few options all of us should have available in order to communicate with others either for emergencies or more routine messaging.

Types of communication to consider carrying:

  1. Cellular phone
  1. Satellite phone
  1. Rescue mirror
  2. Flares
  3. Whistle
  4. Pen and paper

You will notice I have included the cell phone on the list. Don’t forget that the text message option may work even when there is not enough signal to complete a call. The text may also send even if there is only a tiny window where the signal is strong enough to do so as you continue your hike. Don’t forget, though, that this signal searching will run down the battery and additional charge will need to be obtained through a back-up battery charger or solar charger.

The satellite phone can be a great option. Phone and plan prices have continued to decrease making these affordable to most backcountry enthusiasts. You will find most guided expeditions will have one available for emergencies. If you don’t want to make this investment, you can use less expensive options such as “Spot” and others that allow for “emergency” or “ok” signals to be sent via satellite.

The old fashioned rescue mirror is a mainstay for signaling. It can be used, alternatively, for tick checks in less visible areas, a way to get that piece of dirt out of your eye or for any number of other uses beyond signaling the helicopter overhead looking for you as a proverbial needle in the haystack.

While a little heavy, flares can be a great tool to start a rescue fire and/or signal for help in an open field. These are inexpensive and easily found in most department stores. They are easy to use and can be kept for long periods. They do have an expiration date, however, and this should be checked yearly to avoid them not functioning when you need them.

The rescue whistle is an often maligned piece of gear. It just seems too simple to be of need or much good. This is far from the case. Most whistles designed for this purpose can be heard much farther than the human voice. There is also no question about the meaning of a blown whistle in the wilderness. No need to guess what a person said or yelled. A blown whistle means distress and a need for help. There is also the issue of energy need and voice loss with dehydration and exhaustion. A whistle can be blown far longer than the average human can continue to effectively scream or yell for help.

We finish this off were we began. A good pad and pencil can be invaluable. Be sure to get the “Rite in the Rain” brand so that weather won’t make your well written note illegible. When writing such a note, be sure to include all necessary details. Your reader can’t text back “?” in order to ask for additional information. Be sure to be as specific as possible about where you are headed and when you expect to be at a known point. Give headings you are following and be sure to make known if you are experiencing any difficulties. This can allow rescuers to be more prepared for the state they may find you in and for the needs you will have. Besides this use, the uses for a pen and paper are innumerable.

What are your favorite and most effective ways of communicating in the backcountry?

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