Itinerary: What info do you leave behind and when

9:38 p.m. on June 18, 2008 (EDT)
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Presumably, we all know how important it is to leave certain info behind with a trusted friend or relative when we go hiking or backpacking. But, I'm curious about when/how/what info you REALLY leave behind or with others and when, if ever, do you leave nothing or not-so-much behind—sort of a best practices versus real world question.

When I first started thinking about this, after reading the missing Denali hikers thread, I thought my answer would be very black and white (always leave info with a trusted person etc…), but in reality it depends.

For example, when I go running, road or trail, I always tell my husband or leave a note saying where I'm headed and when I left.

When backpacking we usually tell relatives where we're headed, our intended route, and how long before they should contact authorities if we're not back. However, I admit to going backpacking while on vacation without being this thorough.

Day hikes have a LOT of gray area though. On a three-season, day-long hike, we might leave a note in the car (face-down on the floor where it might eventually be noticed by rescuers if we're presumed missing) saying where we're headed, for how long, our experience level, and an emergency contact. This is intended as additional S&R info, rather than an alert though. If there's any sort of sign in/out system we always do that. If relatives are watching our kids, we’d leave info with them.

If it is winter and we are doing something more challenging (like a New England 4,000-footer), we'd likely leave full info with relatives (though they’d be watching our kids and need that info anyway).

That said, there are a number of short, easy day hikes in our area for which I've never left a note behind in any season, though if I went alone I’d tell my spouse where I was headed.

I think if you have a spouse, partner, or roommate who doesn't hike with you, it's easier to always leave behind info. But, for those of us who usually hike with our partner, it gets trickier. And if you work for yourself, there aren’t any co-workers who will notice your absence on Monday morning.

So, what do you really do in practice?

10:32 p.m. on June 19, 2008 (EDT)
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What a great question.

For me I guess the short honest answer is almost nothing, and about half the time. I will usually name the general area, or location. Sometimes name the members of a group. Sometimes mention my expected return time (dinner time?). No mention of gear.

I find that because my wife does not hike with me it is actually much more difficult to leave the more important info behind. She shows little interest in receiving this info. Perhaps she does not want to think of the bad side of this info.

I know that an awful lot more information should be left behind. Part of this is laziness on my part as well as complacency. Another reason (excuse) could be that sometimes these trips happen quickly, with little formal planning other than wouldn’t it be great to go…..

In my home area, Southern Vancouver Island, Canada, even a one hour hike could become something much more dramatic in a very short time. I like to think that I could turn around and go home if needed.

Me bad and could be dead. Any way head up, eyes open, ears tuned.

10:35 p.m. on June 19, 2008 (EDT)
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I think this is going to be different things for different people. Local day hike or Amazon bushwack? Do you have someone back home who is competent? Is there a Park Ranger Station or just a sign-in box? Do you need a permit or do you just park at a trailhead?

Most areas I go to you just park at the trailhead, maybe fill out a little form and drop it in a box. I always add my vehicle description and tag number because I leave info in my windshield. For local dayhikes with a group, I don't go to too much trouble. My family always knows where i'm headed and I leave it at that.
However I also go on week long solo trips with my dog, we both like to find a secluded area and do a little fishing, photography, and just enjoy nature! For me to get to the mountains requires a five hour drive, so I am not close to home or family.
On these trips I leave my itinerary with my family, and a copy in my windshield, complete with a topo which has my route marked on it, also a copy to the Ranger if one is close by.
I am not always able to follow this route exactly if I leave the trail, but at least someone will know which way I headed. (can you imagine looking for someone and not knowing which basic direction to look in?)
You have to put yourself in the shoes of someone who does not know you or what your plans were, what info do they need to find you, and also to recognize you.
Are you by yourself or with a group? What color is your tent?
My family keeps a copy of my medical info, and I have a copy in my first aid kit, also one on my person with my I.D.
Maybe not everyone needs to do that, but I am allergic to some meds. and to bee stings, plus If you take medications a paramedic or doctor needs to know what you take.
A piece of paper with your info on it, laminated, does not weigh much, nor does it take up much space. If I never need it, great!

11:59 a.m. on June 20, 2008 (EDT)
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I agree with Alicia that it really depends on a lot of factors. Right now, I am headed for the Sierra, but for a very benign outing. I will be car camping with a group (we have 16 campsites in a state park). The activities will be orienteering, which is a "race" (some of us walk and enjoy the woods), using a specially made topo map (1:10,000 scale, oriented to magnetic north, color coded to show vegetation, boulders, tree stumps, downed trees, etc in minute detail). Every person out on the courses provides name, age (competition class), club (most wear suits with club name and colors), car make/model/license/color, phone number (local, cell, home - in case the car is gone to check for sure), epunch number (scoring is done electronically, so the path can be traced, though not in detail). There are cutoff times (3 hours from your start time, return by 2:30 at latest) at which point a search effort is started. There is more to it than this, but this excess of detail means that people don't stay lost or lying out there injured for very long, plus there are lots of others on the courses. Everyone is required to carry a whistle and know the proper signal.

I will add some of my personal non-orienteering info when I get back next week. But something not mentioned yet - when I get back to the car from any backpack or expedition, I send a message home (cell phone, sat phone, ham radio - Barb and I are ham radio operators, as is our son) to let whoever my contact is know I am entering the most dangerous part of the journey (more climbers, backcountry skiers, and backpackers are killed or seriously injured on the drive home than during the backpack, climb, or ski tour, according to statistics that have been gathered by several outing organizations (they have to do this to get the group insurance coverages).

On another thread, someone mentioned carrying a card with medical info, including blood type, and wondered how many know the blood types of their companions. I would go further - how many know their own blood types? You need to know your own personal medical situation and carry something with you at all times (even a walk around the block or driving to work).

10:25 p.m. on September 17, 2008 (EDT)
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I usually include where I'm going with my route overlaid on the map, when I'll be back, the number for the local forest or parks service, the color of our coats, and tents and what methods we have to signal SAR, ex, whistle, mirror firearm etc. I also include what our most likely response will be to some common problems like injury or unexpected weather. For example, if we are late and the weather is determined to be the likely cause, SAR will have our pre-planned response will be.

This is all included in a word document so I can fill in the blanks without forgetting any key info. It also makes it quick and easy to forward it to a few email addresses. It usually takes me only a few minutes to fill in the blanks as all the variables are already listed.

It sounds excessive, but like I said, all I do is fill in a few blanks and forward it. It also includes a checklist of what to do if they don't hear from me by the deadline.

5:30 p.m. on September 21, 2008 (EDT)
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Then I just make sure anybody who is curious will check it while they are surfing. It does takes all the fun and "manly" adventure out of being 'off on your own'. $100/year is pretty good insurance if you often go where you should have one of these.

If I want to be found I want to be found NOW! Not in the morning when I don't show up.

Back up of course is the usual trip notes to somebody that will try to remember to think of me.

10:02 p.m. on September 21, 2008 (EDT)
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I am trying to wrap up a thorough test of the SPOT, but have had a bit less than complete cooperation from their tech people. There are some problems that make the SPOT less than completely dependable. In practice, it does not work as well as the hype in the press. It is ok as an emergency communicator, if the 5 people on your emergency contact list are checking their email or text messages, or if you use their 911 service (emphasize "ok" not "great"). As a tracking device, it leaves a lot to be desired. I have had it go for over an hour without putting a track message through, particularly where there is canopy or canyon problems (2 parts to this - SPOT uses an old technology GPS-chip, and second, it is dependent on the questionable reliability of the Globalstar satphone system, so in both cases, dependent on getting the signal through vegetation and other canopy and seeing enough clear sky to get the signal from the GPS satellites and to the Globalstar satellites). Typically, it takes at least 20 minutes to get a message through, even with a completely clear view of the sky. Add to that the time involved in activating the S&R group and their getting to your location (good only to about 150 feet in practice for any given message, though averaging over a couple hours can get down to under 10 feet if the messages are getting through).

2:40 p.m. on September 22, 2008 (EDT)
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I also have a Spot device but have only used it on a handful of outings. My experience is that it either transmits a message quickly and with acceptable accuracy, or silently fails to transmit.

My biggest complaint about the device is that it provides no clear and unambiguous indication of whether a message was successfully sent. At the end of a 20-minute attempt, its blinking light either turns solid for two seconds (success) or stops blinking (failure). Either way, if you're not looking directly at the device at that precise moment, you have no way of knowing whether your transmission was successful.

Sometimes it's important to me to have that information. If I know that transmission has failed, I may wish to try climbing a higher ridge to make another attempt. If I know that transmission has succeeded, I can simply proceed with peace of mind. The device should continuously display the outcome of the last transmission attempt until I acknowledge it.

That said, the Spot is a very affordable safety net and I'm optimistic that they'll continue to improve on this first (flawed) model. I recommend it, especially for solo backpackers, but of course it's not a substitute for basic preparedness.

I still leave info with my boyfriend when I go backpacking. Usually a copy of my trail map, the name of the trailhead, the nearest highway or town, the places I intend to camp, and my estimated return time.

6:37 p.m. on September 24, 2008 (EDT)
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I just picked up a spot as well (free with the subscription!!), but for obvious reasons will still file an itinerary. I tested it out in some pretty thick woods near home and it did get a signal through, although it did take the full 20 minutes.

I've taken two trips since I got it, one I spent quite a bit of time in canyons. I tried sending out an OK message as a test, but it did not go through. The other trip was to an area not yet covered by the network so I didn't get to use it there. Overall it has it's limitations, but you can't beat the price. I'd use it like a GPS to supplicant a compass, it doesn't replace an itinerary, but the two work well together. Also, if you are running late, you can use an OK message to put off S&R.

12:53 p.m. on September 25, 2008 (EDT)
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WISam said


I'd use it like a GPS to supplicant a compass,

I assume you meant "supplement a compass".

The SPOT cannot be used as a GPSR. There is no display to tell you where you are. The only information you get is the blinking lights that, properly read (the directions are very poor on this) tell you that the unit is on, that it has or does not have a lock on the GPS satellites, that it is attempting to send or is sending a message, and that's about it. As smartacus pointed out, it does not tell you whether a message has successfully been sent through the Globalstar satellites.

Since SPOT does not provide any position information to the user, a compass cannot be used as a supplement as it can for a standard GPSR. In any case, the GPSR should be in the support role, with the compass and map in the primary roles. This includes mapping GPSRs, such as the Garmin 60Cx, Magellan Tritons, and the Delorme PN-40 (that's the new one that appears to have cured many of the problems of the PN-20, though I haven't had my hands on one yet).

To be clear, the SPOT is an emergency locater beacon, not a navigation device.

SPOT can send 4 types of signals, which the user does not see until getting to a location where s/he can access the internet - "OK", "HELP", "911", and track messages. All four message types include the unit's location (latitude and longitude, plus time of signal and a unit identifier). In addition, "OK" and "HELP" message contents add a short (100 characters or so) message the user programs via the SPOT website BEFORE going into the field (cannot be altered without an internet connection). This can range from "I'm OK" to "I will be late" for the OK message (doesn't say what your new return time will be) or "Accident - need help." to "Desperate situation - need help immediately" for the "HELP" message. OK and HELP are sent to a list of 5 people (email or text message) you program on the SPOT website ahead of time (separate list of 5 for each message type). HELP does not go to a S&R group, unless you have included such a group in your "team" list - one of your "team" members will have to do that (this is the procedure that has been used in several of the publicized rescues, with the 911 message being used for others). The "911" message goes to an international S&R coordination organization, which has your (pre-provided) information on file. They use this information to notify a local S&R organization in your vicinity (or as close as possible). Your 2 lists for OK and HELP are not notified with the 911 message.

The TRACK message is stored on your section of the SPOT website and can only be accessed through your sign-on, including password. Exception - there is a method being tested to notify a group of people and provide a link to a Google Earth map showing your location is quasi-real time for the last 24 hours, 7 days, or one month. This bulletin "SHARE" also included the OK and HELP locations. Setting it up is a bit quirky.

6:03 a.m. on October 13, 2008 (EDT)
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Great question - I'd love to claim that I always leave full information about where I'm going, when I intend to return and my approximate route - but to be honest for most day hikes, assuming my wife isn't hiking as well, I'll just let her know when I expect to be back and where I'm planning to hike (note, this may change while I'm in the car).

I've gotten pretty casual about overnights as well of late -

guess I'm getting sloppy in my old age!

8:33 a.m. on December 24, 2008 (EST)
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Have you come across Yellowbrick?:

Basically the same as SPOt but running on the Iridium service, thus global coverage. It allows ones progress to be tracked in real time via Google Earth.

Todd Carmichael used it on his current expedition, although not to great success as it packed up on him around mid-way into his journey. Yellowbrick informed me that a non arctic/antarctic version (using a -40°C battery) was rushed out to him just before his expedition began, hense the reason for his devices failing!

What I am not very keen on is that service is rental only, so no option for a device to be purchased outright as is the case with SPOT.


12:36 p.m. on December 24, 2008 (EST)
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I am aware of Yellowbrick. I have a thorough test report on SPOT coming out soon. Yellowbrick has some of the same strengths and flaws as SPOT. One of the big problems with both (and strengths)is the reliance on satphone systems to relay the track information. The update rate leaves fairly big gaps - SPOT's 10 minute update means a half-mile spacing at a 2 mph rate, assuming every track update gets through. You won't have canopy in Antarctica or much in the way of canyon. But the satellite coverage for both Globalstar (SPOT) and Iridium (Yellowbrick) is far from continuous (Disclosure: during my professional career, before retirement, I worked on the Global Positioning System and on Iridium as a systems analyst and designer).

We used Iridium when in Antarctica, as well as the VHF radios (there are VHF repeaters in the Patriot Hills and elsewhere in the Sentinel Range, but that doesn't help for the Hercules Inlet-SPole trek). We found some problems getting and holding contact at times, plus there was the battery problem. I presume you will be carrying one of the foldable solar panels (I have a 28 watt one, which worked quite well in Antarctica). You can lay the panel out on your sled during the day to recharge the Iridium batteries and your GPSR (take rechargeable 2500mA-hr type and keep plenty charged). I would suggest the Garmin 60Cx (NOT the CSx - the barometric sensor in the "S" versions has problems with the different pressure-altitude profile in high Arctic regions, thanks to Garmin's altimeter algorithm). But still, keep the units warm inside your parka or with the chemical handwarmers (though a 40 day supply is a lot of extra weight). And take double or triple everything electronic - you will get some electronic failures.

In short about Yellowbrick and SPOT for such long treks - I would not take them at this stage of the art, or at least not rely on them as the sole or primary tracking device. Maybe an ACR PLB/EPIRB. But you will have at least once daily scheds with Pat Hills, plus other people will be on the route, and the Twin Otters do overflights.

1:30 p.m. on December 24, 2008 (EST)
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Hi Bill,

You have managed to address a few questions I was meaning to ask you in regards to solar power, the Garmin units (to which I had selected the 60CSx version you mention NOT to get!), and the chemical handwarmers.

Would it be ok if I submitted my current kit list to you for review? If so you can obtain my email address from my profie details.

Many thanks in advance

4:17 p.m. on December 26, 2008 (EST)
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With worried brother and especially my sister I usually tell them and most friends where I am going, how long I am staying and about my intended routes. If in a national park of course I get a permit and stay to it as best possible. I usually check back in and let other contacts know when I return.
But these are only recent practices as I have traveled to many remote areas outside federally regulated places and stayed many weeks and months away from towns and public areas during my late 20's and early 30's. I started giving itineraries when I got into my late 30's and all of my 40's. Now I mainly do just overnights and weekends around Jackson Hole, with yearly week long backpacking trips on vacations to places like Utah and Arizona.

10:37 p.m. on December 26, 2008 (EST)
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Fred touched in passing on a point that is not emphasized enough, and one that is important to practice with the introduction of tracking and emergency devices such as SPOT, Yellowbrick, ACR, and so on. Some of these units have a setup procedure when you get them that asks for input of primary and secondary contacts, and some ask for a list of contacts to whom to send emails or text messages with the updated information. It is too easy to do the setup when you get the device, then forget to review and update the contact list and messaging information for each trip. Fred mentions

assuming my wife isn't hiking as well, I'll just let her know when I expect to be back and where I'm planning to hike

With the automated system, what if you forget that your contact(s) will be along on the trip as well. Suppose a group of us at Trailspace got together for a winter Katahdin climb, each with a tracking or emergency unit, with one or more of the others on the trip on the contact list. Then there is no one to get the call from S&R to confirm that this is not a false alarm and to provide other pertinent information.

Fred also mentions that sometimes (too often, I suspect) he might change his mind and go somewhere else than where he told his contact (his wife) he was going for the hike. Yes, I have said I was headed for Black Mountain, found the parking lot full, and headed off for Windy Hill, neglecting to let someone know where to look, in case I didn't show up for supper.

So 2 lessons - make sure your emergency contacts will be there, and make sure to update them for any change of plans. Cell phones work pretty well for doing this these days.

4:21 p.m. on December 27, 2008 (EST)
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What info do you leave behind and when.

I still think that this is a great question.
This is my second response to this Post.
I have changed what, how and why I leave it behind.
Although great lengths have been made with electronic rescue/safety devices, I still think that a paper list(?) should be left behind, as the Primary Itinerary. All one needs to read such a thing would be daylight or a candle to read. Also those who may be trying to reach me have the info in hand and may be able to pass over to the Police/ Emergency Response people ALL OF THE INFORMATION INTACT. Keep in mind that your contact people may not have the best memory or be able to deal with a crisis at this time.

In the summer I went on an adventure leaving this list behind thinking that it would only apply one way. Me, late, or a no show, so send help. With a death in the family, my family could and did send messages ahead for myself and brother-in-law using the information I had left behind. I now also carry a copy of the Emergency Contact Plan with me when in a group, as One of us may be making those difficult phone calls. .

Now I use (after reading this the first time in March), a composite List/Plan. The Information left behind may be lengthily but when SAR comes looking for Me, I want them to have as much info as possible so they can get to me as quickly as possible. With this list SAR can quickly determine that YOU are not who they are looking for (ME).

Destination, Date of Event, Participants,
My outdoor Activity Plans and Equipment/ Supplies List
Start Day of Week Date Month Time
Intended return
Day of Week Date Month Time
Purpose of trip
Route Plan A Specific Area:
Intended Route in (Be Specific) Intended Route out (Be specific)
Route Plan B Specific Area:
Intended Route in (Be Specific) Intended Route out (Be specific)
Transportation to and From the Start Point.
Vehicle Licence No.

Or dropped off at Start Point By:
Name, Phone.
To be picked up at end point by:
Name, Phone
Time Date Location.

Equipment /Supplies taken:
First aid kit,
Extra Clothing,
Fire Starter,
Sun Protection,
Tent (Colour),
Food (days per person), Radio (frequency/channel), Signaling device,
Skis, Snowshoes,
Avalanche Beacon,

Personal Locator Beacon (PLB#),
Cellular Phone No.
Fire Arms,
RV, ATV, Snowmobile (Description),


Emergency Contact Plan
Single page
Full Names
Medical Issues/Medicines
Who What When Where Why?
Need Emergency Contact Names/Numbers of others in party.

Filled out for each person on trip

Last Name
First Name
Hair and Skin,
Hat Colour,
Coat Colour,
Shirt/Sweater Colour,
Pack Colour,
Pant Colour,
Footwear Type and Size,
Family Doctor,
Emergency Contact,
Survival Training,
First Aid/ Certification,
Ability – Beginner, Novice, Experienced.

The following will be notified if I/we change our destination:
Home Phone: Work Phone:

Please notify the police if I/we do not return by:
Signature Date

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