Tiffany, Day Hiking Ambassador
It’s easy to underestimate even a familiar hike in the winter time. I know this because I have been there. We can create a false sense of security knowing that we have seen a certain trail before or we have overall experience in the outdoors. While these may be true, the hike that we think will make a great snowshoe trail will appear drastically different in the winter months. Luckily, in the age of technology, the majority of us will have a smart phone on us for our adventure. Your iPhone may be great at taking photos of your adventure, but it’s also good to know that if an emergency arose, your phone can turn into your safety secret weapon.
Before you even leave your home for an outdoor excursion, you can take preemptive measures. Leave a note or tell someone where you are going. This may seem like common sense, but in many incidences notes were not left because the person was familiar with the area and intended to be back shortly. Remember that false sense of security I mentioned? Include in your message when you intend to be back. Many people know to leave their cell phone number, but also include your phone carrier’s company name in the list of information. This information would help pin point your location if an emergency arose.
Now that you have your “paper work” done, check your phone. Is it ready to hit the trail? How is the battery? You cannot make any emergency calls if your phone is dead. Now that you see you did indeed charge your phone, it’s time to address your phone’s case. Any time you choose to play in the great outdoors, it’s smart to choose a rugged, water proof case. The last thing you want to do is lose your phone to a slushy snow puddle. In a pinch, however, or if you don’t have the money for a sealed case, a zip-lock plastic bag will work. This will not help with the impact of dropping your phone, but it will keep any snow out. I usually keep a few extra bags in my pack as back up.
Once you are on the trail, it’s easy to drain a phone’s battery. Some photos over here, checking in your hike on social media, or checking the weather all add up. Even if you aren’t outright using your phone, you could be roaming causing your phone battery to be drained. You can limit this by turning your phone onto “airplane mode”. This way you can still use the device to take those candid photos you love.
Where am I? The dreaded thought that any hiker or snowshoe-r never wants to think. If you are lost and have service, the solution is simple; call 911. If there is no service, my phone is useless, right? Not necessarily. Try calling 911 even if your phone shows no bars of service. If another cell carrier in the area has service, it will automatically connect the call even if your service provider doesn’t cover that area. If that call doesn’t go through, then no company’s cover that area. Don’t give up hope! Even if your call did not go through, at best you are creating a digital map or your location from towers, or at the very least signs that you are alive. If you are lost, it is good to periodically call to keep making those pins. This way when your emergency contact realizes you did not come home from your outdoor excursion, they can work with your cell provider to look up your phone use and try to pinpoint where you are.
It is also recommended to try texting. A text does not require as much signal as a call does to go through. Text-to-911 is available, but in very limited locations. If you are able to get a message across, include as much information as you can with a location as specific as possible. It is best to not rely on text-to-911 unless you are positive it’s available in your area. If not try texting the same info to an emergency contact and continue to make calls to 911. If your phone becomes too cold from the exposure in the process, hold the phone to your core for 30 minutes or until it powers back on continue the process. Although higher ground can have better service, it is not recommended to exhaust yourself by trudging through deep snow and risking your well-being. It’s important to stay calm and avoid making rash decisions.
No one ever believes that they could become lost on an afternoon snowshoe expedition, but it can happen. Through education, however, we can know how to be prepared. The best thing anyone can do is to stay collected and make smart choices. The next best thing just may be your smart phone and the mind to use it to save our life.