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The reason you should complete a trip plan and leave it with someone you trust is so someone will know where to begin a search if you do not return at the intended time. If you leave a trip plan with a friend, make sure they are aware of why you are doing so, and explain to them the importance of their role.

The trip plan must answer all the basic questions (sometimes known as the 5 W’s and H), as all of these questions will be asked by a search manager initiating a search.

  • WHO? Provide names and a detailed description of who is in your party, what they are wearing, gear they have with them, training and experience, medical conditions, who to notify, etc.
  • WHEN? It is important to include when you are going and when you plan to return from your trip. If you are not back at the intended time or day, this is what will initiate a response first from your friend then from SAR. It is good to build in a buffer to allow for minor mishaps and underestimating the time it may take for your trip.
  • WHY? State the purpose of your trip, and the mode in which you will be traveling (e.g. day hike, overnight, skiing, climbing, and mushroom-picking, etc.).
  • WHERE? Give specific locations of the area in which your trip is, as well as your intended route to your destination. It is also good to provide an alternate route.
  • WHAT? The equipment and supplies you have with you will help searchers know what to look for, as well as determine your level of preparedness for the given terrain and weather.
  • HOW? Indicate how you are getting to the starting point and end point of your trip. Many searches begin at the subject’s vehicle.

Planning a search and rescue effort starts with assessing the subject’s destination, probable route, and likely location. The best chance of rescue exists close to the place where you initially become lost. At a distance of 1km from your planned route, the search area is 3.1 square km. At 3 km from your route, it is 28 square km and at 10 km it is 314 square km! Therefore, if you stick to your trip plan, and are near your intended route, your chances of being found are good.

The Aaron Ralston Story

In May 2003, Aaron Ralston made media headlines everywhere by escaping out of a slot canyon in Utah by amputating his own arm, which had been pinned by an 800 lb (363 kg) boulder. Aaron’s incredible tale of survival has spawned numerous interviews, a book about his story, and a motivational speaking tour.

Certainly, no one can question that the man had a will to survive, and that the act of freeing himself by severing his limb with a multi-tool knife was an act of bravery. Many people question, however, why he is made out to be such a hero. Although he possessed strong outdoor skills and he carried with him a number of survival items, he had neglected to do the one thing that might have saved him his limb—he did not leave a trip plan.

Rex Tanner, a ten-year veteran and commander of the busy Grand County SAR group responsible for the 3,600 square miles (9,324 square km) around Bluejohn Canyon, was interviewed by National Geographic magazine. Although Tanner has high praise for Ralston’s resolve and strong-mindedness, he indicated that Ralston made some common errors.

"It’s not unusual to have people do exactly what Ralston did—get themselves in a situation where they haven’t told anybody where they’re going, climb down into an area that’s questionable, and not be able to get out."

He points out the simple solution to avoiding such ordeals as the one that could have saved Ralston’s hand.

"He could have left a note. He could have had a buddy. To me, one of the biggest problems out there is people don’t tell someone that they are going to a particular location. It’s really not that difficult to do, and to me, it doesn’t take away from the wilderness experience."