If you live in Colorado, it’s likely that you enjoy losing yourself in nature every once in a while. But literally losing yourself out there? Not so much.
Every year, rescuers respond to calls for help — fallen climbers, lost hikers, injured adventurers. Some of these instances are minor, but some are much more serious. For example — on Tuesday, a Boulder man who was seriously injured by the Fourth of July Mine used an emergency tool through his Garmin device to call rescuers. He was located and taken to a hospital.
If you’re headed into the backcountry this summer, make sure you have at least a couple ways to call for help. And that starts with the right technology.
Here are some of the most popular and reliable devices that can help you stay safe and have fun while you’re out on your adventures this summer:
· Garmin Oregon 750t GPS: With a large touchscreen, redesigned antenna for better satellite reception and pre-loaded maps, this is one of the easiest devices to use to find where a backcountry trail is headed, where your destination is and how to get back home. It has built-in WiFi, a camera and TracBack, which helps you navigate back to your starting point the same way you came. $720.
· SPOT: These devices use the world’s most modern satellite network to track your movements, send and receive messages, notify your friends or family of your location and contact rescue officials in an emergency. $150-$250.
· Suunto Ambit3 Peak: Don’t want to carry a GPS tracker? This watch can do a lot of the same things. It allows users to load routes onto it and will guide you along your designated path. Its GPS and barometric capabilities have merged so it will alert you if storms are rolling in and if you need to find shelter. Plus, the company claims it can last up to 200 hours. $420.
· Garmin eTrex 10: If you’re a casual weekend hiker and looking for something with a lower price point, this little rugged device may be the perfect fit. It supports GPS, is waterproof and has enough memory to store 50 routes. On two AA batteries, it can last up to 25 hours. While it lacks a lot of the bells and whistles of other trackers, it’s a good one to start with. $110.
· Garmin inReach: This device allows two-way messaging from anywhere, navigates its users, tracks the journey and much more. It also has a SOS function, which will contact emergency responders in your area, and will send you weather forecasts before you head out the door. $300-$830
These devices fit a lot of help into a small piece of technology, but that comes at a price. If making that kind of purchase is out of the cards right now, you can look at options that are much more budget-friendly: phone apps.
Of course, one of the many reasons we like to hike in the backcountry is to disconnect from our phones. But bringing it along, even if it’s on silent mode and stuffed out of sight in your bag, can save your life.
These apps can help you if you become lost or need help:
· Gaia GPS: The maps in this app are easy-to-read and follow. Download offline maps to use as you go. They have several settings, which can allow you to see things like slope angles and hill shading. Search and rescue volunteers all over the world use this app. It costs $20 per year.
· Hiking Project/Trail Run Project: Both of these apps were created by the same company and sync with each other. They offer detailed maps and data, and invite users to write trail reports, rate conditions and upload current pictures. It also offers driving direction to trailheads. Both apps will show your location compared to verified trails without cell service. Free.
· AllTrails: The Lifeline feature, which is part of AllTrails Pro, allows a user to select up to five contacts who can track the person’s planned start and finish times and location, total tracked distance and elevation gain and real-time location plotted against planned route. The app is free, but this feature is $2.50 per month or $60 for three years.
· Cairn: This app shares your location with people of your choosing while you embark on your adventures and will send them an alert if you’re overdue. One of the more unique aspects of this app is how it crowdsources cell coverage areas. It provides a map where others have found service, so you know where to go to make an emergency call. The app can send your contacts status updates with a single tap, offer rescue advice and more. You can also download offline maps and record your hike in the app. Free 60-day trial, then $5 per month or $27 for one year.
Other apps, like Strava and Garmin, can help your friends and family from afar ensure you aren’t stuck in a bad situation. Strava’s Beacon feature allows up to three contacts to track you in real time on a map (they don’t need the app to do so). Beacon is part of Strava’s paid features and is part of a package that costs $2 a month.
Garmin’s LiveTrack is free to use and works in a similar manner, but you must have a wearable Garmin device. LiveTrack allows friends and family to track your activity in real time via an invite by email, Facebook or Twitter. Information from your watch — which can include elevation, heart rate, cadence, speed, distance and more — can be viewed by your selected contacts. It’s commonly advised to not post your coordinates on social media, especially if you’re hiking alone.
Most of these apps will use some of your battery life, so if that is a concern, you may want to purchase a portable phone charger. Top-rated power banks range in price from $18 to $50 on Amazon.
If you find yourself in a situation without working technology, you can rely on a few reliable tips. First, stop and think. Look around to see what appears familiar. This is a good time to grab your compass and open your map (yes, always bring a physical map. Technology does fail sometimes). If you don’t know how to read a map, REI has this helpful guide, plus information on how to use a compass.
If you believe moving around is the best option for you, you have two choices: If you’re near a valley or river, follow it downstream. You’ll likely run into a trail or community, since we tend to build towns in lower elevations and around water. If you don't see a valley or river nearby, look for an easy place to get a high advantage point to search for civilization (like light pollution) or a trail.
Need immediate help? Blow a whistle. It indicates you are in danger and scares off predators. But don’t use it unless absolutely necessary. A worried hiker may go miles out of their way to check on somebody blowing a whistle. Bestselling whistles on Amazon start at $3.
Here are some other tips for safe hiking this summer:
· Plan ahead of time and know the route and surrounding areas
· Start early. We all know how fast Colorado’s afternoon storms can roll in
· Along those lines, if you're going on a long hike, check the weather as you go. Are there gray clouds coming over the mountains? Is fog moving in? Has a cool breeze picked up? If you’re at high elevation (or headed that way) and have cell service, the app Mountain Forest can help you determine the weather on mountain peaks.
· Bring a fully charged headlamp, even if you’re just out for a day hike. You can keep this in the bottom of your bag if you don’t need it. Many bestselling headlamps on Amazon are less than $20.
· Keep animal repellent and pepper spray within reach. Use the repellent on aggressive wildlife and the pepper spray on a human threat. Keep in mind these tools will be absolutely no help in an emergency if they're tucked away in your bag.
· If you enjoy long hikes, you might want to invest in a portable water filtration system. There are dozens on the market that are compact enough to carry. For example, the LifeStraw Personal Water Filter is small enough to fit in your palm and costs just $15. It allows you to drink straight out of any water source. With summer on the way, this can save you from dehydration.
· Remember, you can try to call 911 even if your phone shows no signal. If you’re lucky, the 911 operator’s computer will pick up your call and estimated location and can send help. Backpacker Magazine explains it more here. If you find yourself needing emergency assistance, this is always the best first option.