Staying Safe: Plan Ahead and Spread the Word

This is the third installment of Staying Safe. This series tackles common safety issues in being active and enjoying the outdoors safely and responsibly. Have a suggestion or a topic you’d like to learn more about? Send me an e-mail at!

Plan Ahead

Staying safe while enjoying outdoor activity starts at home. Sitting down and planning out your hike/climb/run/(insert other activity here) isn’t always the most fun part, but it allows you to plan a trip that you know will be fun and will be appropriately challenging for your skill level in the activity at hand. It can also it can also allow you to think about potential hazards and how you might address them on the fly.

As an outdoor leader, I’ve put together more trip control plans than I care to remember. When your job involves keeping people safe while engaging in unpredictable and at times risky activities, this usually means writing out every single teeny-tiny detail, listing as many potential hazards as possible, and outlining an emergency action plan for each. Obviously, your plan need NOT be this detailed. But, having a plan is the first step to staying safe.

Spread the Word

Having a plan helps you to think through possible scenarios and have a good idea of what the trip will look like. But ultimately, this plan does you no good if it’s not shared with the right people. This is the key that many people miss – MAKE a plan and SHARE it with a responsible friend or family member.

What should your plan include?

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  • WHO: Include the names, phone numbers, and a description of each person going on the trip. Having a description of each member of the party can potentially save rescuers a time if it comes to that.
  • WHAT: List any activities you’ll be doing. Again, this can help rescuers decide what gear or skills they’ll need to assist you – this can be very different if you’re skiing than if you’re rock climbing than if you’re day-hiking, for example.
  • WHEN: Give the dates and times you’ll be leaving and returning. It’s good to give two return times – one that you expect to return, and what I call an Oh, Shit! time  – if your friend hasn’t heard from you by this time, they call in help. Remember that plans do change, so work in a few hours of leeway to avoid calling in search and rescue unnecessarily. Along those lines, REMEMBER to actually call your friend when you get home!
  • WHERE: Pretty self-explanatory – where you’re going! Be sure to include the address, and it may be prudent to also include potential camp sites if you’re headed out for a few nights. Including a map can be really helpful, here as well, and makes it very easy to mark your intended route and camp sites.
  • HOW: How are you getting there? Include the color, make, model, and even license plate of your car and where it’s parked. Heck, you can mark this on the map, too!

Your trip plan can be as detailed as you’d like, but don’t get too hung up on it. As long as you leave the basics (Who, What, When, Where, How) with someone else, you’ll make it easier to find and rescue you if something does go wrong, despite your well-laid plans.

Keep in mind that this is geared toward a day or overnight trip, but can also work for your daily runs. Obviously it might be overkill to create a plan like this for every single run, but the general concept still applies.

Telling someone where you will be running, when you will be back, and even what you’re wearing can save your life!

When I run while Ian is at work, I call my mom before I leave to tell her where I’m going and when I expect to be back. Then, I call her when I get back. I’ll be honest, I occasionally forget, so she knows to call first if she hasn’t heard from me before calling in the troops. It’s a one minute conversation that makes us all feel much better about my safety out there on the roads.

It’s simple – next time you head out to enjoy the outdoors, remember to PLAN AHEAD & SPREAD THE WORD!


4 thoughts on “Staying Safe: Plan Ahead and Spread the Word

  1. This is all good advice! Sadly we often don’t take enough time to prepare and let people know what is going on. If I run alone, I tell my husband when to expect me back, but I rarely tell him what direction I’m going in.

    • I do the same when my husband is around. I’ve been trying to be better about saying more than just “Going out for a run!” Even the most minute details can end up being important!

  2. Pingback: Staying Safe: The 10 Essentials «

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