Tuesday, January 3, 2012

If lost on day hike, reassure children by getting them involved in signaling for help

A pocket mirror is useful to signal for help
should you be lost. Photo courtesy of
While you always should stay put and let help come to you if lost, that doesn’t mean you can’t assist those looking for you. Indeed, if hiking with kids, showing that you're doing something often will put kids' minds at greater ease than just sitting there. The kids even can help you signal for help.

Have someone in your party signal help by blowing three blasts on a whistle every minute or so. Hopefully, someone will find you and be able to help you out. You also can use the whistle to spell S.O.S., which is three short whistles, three long whistles, then three short whistles.

A mirror also can be used to attract attention. Point it at the sun and then move it back and forth so that light is reflected off it. Use this method if an aircraft is passing overhead. This is best left to older children to do, however.

Displaying orange gear, especially in groups of three, signals passing hikers and rescuers that you need help. Kids can help arrange the gear.

Ground signals – giant letters made from rock, branches or your gear – can be made in open areas to let passing aircraft know you’re in trouble. “I” means you have an injury, and “F” means you need food and water. Children can help arrange these letters.

Consider building a signal fire as well. In the morning once warm, place green brush and damp bark or moss over your campfire so that it sends up a thick column of black smoke, which will attract rangers and other hikers. Make two additional fire rings so that you have three columns of black smoke rising, which signals “help.” While children shouldn't build or tend to a fire, they can help gather the materials needed for it.

Read more about day hiking with children in my guidebook Hikes with Tykes.