Each year thousands of people worldwide go missing in nature, with extreme weather sometimes complicating rescue efforts. The high-profile disappearance in January of 65-year-old actor Julian Sands in California’s San Gabriel Mountains during a storm put a spotlight on the risks of solo adventures. But there are ways to reduce the risks of traveling alone. These emergency service authorities provide the following tips for how you can avoid trouble before and during your next wilderness escape.
Pro tips for hiking
Hikers entering dense forests should bring a partner and avoid splitting up, says Scott Hillson, a senior member of the Pacific Northwest Search and Rescue in the United States. “The classic scenario we see is that someone heads back to the trailhead before everyone else, and they find themselves in trouble without the support of the rest of the group,” he says. “If you do become lost, make yourself as visible as possible and stay in one place.”
Pro tips for wildfires
As climate change continues to drive conditions like extreme heat and drought, few places around the world are immune to the effects of longer fire seasons. It’s important to mark potential shelter points on a printed or digital map of their route, says a spokesperson for Australia’s Queensland Fire and Emergency Services. If you do encounter a blaze, “don’t panic and try to outrun the fire,” they warn. “Head for natural fire breaks, such as clearings, rocky areas, streams, or roads.”
Pro tips for mountain climbing
Mountain climbers, meanwhile, need warm and waterproof clothing, and should avoid overly difficult routes or underestimating hike duration, says Rebekah Wilson, spokesperson for New Zealand Mountain Safety Council. Social media can lead mountaineers astray, warns Tania Seward, senior advisor for the New Zealand Search and Rescue. “[We see] people choosing a trip because it looks amazing on Instagram and not realizing it’s outside their capabilities,” she says.
Climbers should begin early in the morning to avoid being caught on a mountainside in darkness and leave a note on their vehicle that details their route and timeline. Seward adds that tourists often need rescuing because they ignore bad weather and hike anyway to maintain their holiday schedule.
The best safety tool for climbers is a distress beacon, which can send coordinates to rescue crews. “Last year, 90 percent of all [our] beacon-initiated rescues were completed within eight hours,” Seward says. “Without a beacon, that timeline jumped to 18 hours.”
Pro tips for wet and dry adventures
Such devices are also invaluable for people exploring oceans or rivers, says Alex Barrell, commissioner of Marine Rescue New South Wales in Australia. Far too many people enter the water unprepared, he says. “It’s vital that they check the weather before going offshore and when they’re on the water—conditions can change quickly,” Barrell says. He adds that those in peril on the ocean should never let go of their vessel. He recommends using life vests’ leash attachments to stay connected to kayaks, canoes, and boards.
Being ignorant of weather forecasts also plagues people who venture into deserts or plains, says Lana Mitchell, spokesperson for Australia’s Royal Flying Doctor Service, which specializes in remote area rescues. Hikers should carry a first aid kit, snake bite bandage, sunblock, hat, and enough water to sustain them if they get lost. The general rule is half a liter per hour in moderate weather, and 1 liter per hour in hot weather.
Natural disasters’ impact on travel
Studies show high-profile natural disasters, like deadly wildfires, can prompt a reduction in tourist arrivals to the affected location, says Kuan-Huei Lee, associate professor of tourism at the Singapore Institute of Technology. “Travelers who have the option to do so will tend to choose safer destinations to spend their holidays, without having to worry about putting their lives at risk,” she says.
However, Dan McCole, associate professor of tourism at Michigan State University, says tourism will likely remain strong in popular areas such as California, even if they are prone to extreme weather.
“Tourism tends to rebound rather quickly, often in just under a year [after a natural] disaster,” he says.