Friday, February 3, 2023


Boondocking and hiking: Be cautious, stay safe

By Bob Difley

Some time back a 59-year-old woman went missing in a Northern California state park. She went missing for six days before a man and his son found her. When she was finally rescued from where she had fallen from an unmarked trail into a ravine, she said she was uninjured but could not climb out of the ravine and could only wait, hoping to be rescued. Luckily, other than the misery of being unable to sleep at night because of the cold, she was only treated for hypothermia.

There was a small stream in the ravine that supplied her with drinking water but she had no food, no emergency supplies and no cell phone. The nights were very cold and she had only a hooded sweatshirt for warmth. She had told nobody that she was going for the hike, nor where she was going. Her rescue was only accomplished by a great number of volunteers fanning throughout the park, where she was known to hike, and hoping to get lucky.

This hiker’s dilemma should raise the alert flags especially for boondocking RVers who, by the very nature of their love of open country, back roads, backwoods and isolated locations, are at risk of serious problems if they do not take some precautions when camping, hiking, biking or wandering out in the middle of unpopulated areas.

Think of this: You find a terrific isolated canyon out in the desert to boondock, a couple miles off the main road and completely out of sight from the road. There are no other campers around, no hikers pass by, no ATVs. I don’t have enough fingers and toes to count the number of times I have found and boondocked in just such a place.

Now suppose you go out wandering around, exploring the area, up and down canyons and over ridges. What if you were to fall? These desert hills are made up of loose soil and rocks that easily slip and slide from under your feet, easily dispatching you in a head-over-heels sprawl down to the bottom, with possibly a broken leg, or – as the woman hiker found – you are simply unable to crawl out. How long do you think it would take someone to find you?

I have been lost in the desert. I always thought I was smart enough not to be so stupid. I was wrong. After a few turns and twists, the canyons and the terrain start to look eerily similar, and you can’t tell whether you are headed toward your rig or away from it. Luckily, after wandering and climbing ridges to look around, I always found my way back – hungry, thirsty, tired and feeling humbled.

You can keep these possibly life-threatening events from happening to you with a few simple procedures to follow before you set out:

1.  Always let someone know where you are, where you are going and when you will return.

2.  Keep a survival day backpack stocked and ready to go whenever you head out the door for a hike. In it keep the following items:

• Light windbreaker
• Compass
• Cell phone (most have GPS built in)
• Mylar NASA survival blanket (retains 90% of body heat, waterproof, windproof)
• Several energy bars, trail mix
• Matches or lighter, a few sheets of paper (to start a fire)
• Sunglasses
• Sun hat
• Water bottle
• Sunblock
• Small first aid kit
• Multi-tool pocket knife

3.  Leave a note on your rig where you went hiking, when you left, and when you expect to return so that searchers have a chance of finding you.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking, “It will never happen to me.” I’m sure the woman hiker did.

You can find Bob Difley’s RVing e-books on Amazon Kindle.



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2 years ago

If you are hiking in some national parks they have locator beacons you can sign out or rent. People are always getting lost on Mount Hood and thousands of dollars are spent looking for them when they could have stopped and picked up one of these. It makes me so angry how irresponsible people are. Often times rescuers are injured or killed looking for them.

Michael MCcracken
2 years ago

For years my wife and I enjoyed riding our Polaris Ranger UTV throughout the countryside. Living in Arizona we rode numerous desert and mountain trails alone unaccompanied by other riders. Many times we found ourselves in remote areas away from civilization. I always considered our ability to survive any unforeseen breakdown extremely important. We have found ourselves unsure of what direction to go on many occasion since trails branch off in different directions and then divide again. Others have called me overly cautious and paranoid in my preparedness for our rides. I always had available, spare tire, additional gas, tools, tire inflator,portable battery charger, survival kit with waterproof matches, blankets plenty of water, first aid bandages etc. I also invested in a handheld GPS unit. This has proven essential on many of our rides to lead us back to our campsite. In my opinion, if riding in a ATV, UTV or just hiking, which I have also done, you can never be over prepared. Better safe than sorry.

Janet Noble
2 years ago

I don’t boondock, yet!, but am traveling on my own. I would be concerned about leaving a note at my vehicle saying where I am and when I plan to be back as I would not want just “anyone” having that information.

I always email or message my traveling plans to my family and specific friends then send to them again when I have reached where I am going. I am thinking one could do the same in this situation.

Mark B
2 years ago

The Garmin InReach is great, albeit expensive to buy, and then you need a yearly subscription.

Also pack a tiny flashlight with an intermittent strobe. Then test it. I have run mine continuously flashing for 48 hours (stopped the test). I would only use at night, so I know it easily would last for 4 nights.

A marine fog horn and a good whistle will both be about 120db loud. You can only use the air horn a limited number of times before the propellant runs out; some are duds. Suggest whistle (like Sonic Blast), too. Pack those little orange ear plugs, because after you blow whistle or sound your air horn, if somebody shouts at you, you won’t be able to hear them. Whistle or Fog Horn are good for at best 1 mile radius. The Garmin InReach is looking more attractive because you can leave the cell phone, fog horn, whistle and probably most emergency supplies behind, because you’ll be rescued and sleeping in your bed that night :-).

Bill J
2 years ago

Add one more item to the list – a marine air horn. Small, light, cheap, easy to use – they are usually intended for small boat rescues, and can be heard over water for miles. Over land, their effective range depends on terrain, of course, but the sound is distinctive, and they are way louder than you can yell. Beyond that, they double as a deterrent to scare away coyotes, bears, and so forth, and can also be used to re-unite hiking parties that have gotten separated.
You can find many on Amazon for about $10 each. They weigh only a few ounces, and easily drop into your day bag.

2 years ago

A Garmin InReach is the way to go. Not only does it have an SOS satellite feature, but it can also leave “cookies” on a web based map that friends and family can track and youll have memories of your travels.

We don’t go anywhere without it.

2 years ago

You said paper to start a fire.. One thing I’ve learned in Search and Rescue training is to keep a baggie of dryer lint! It compacts nicely, and starts a fire immediately.

Bob Godfrey
2 years ago

If you frequently spend time hiking or boondocking in remote areas it might be worth it to invest in a PLB – a Personal Locator Beacon which transmits an emergency signal to a satellite and can be used anywhere in the world regardless of cell phone signal coverage. PLBs broadcast on internationally recognized emergency frequencies and you definitely will increase your chances of being found quickly by using one. These are around the size of a cellular flip phone and very light.

2 years ago
Reply to  Bob Godfrey

And where might we buy such a critter, Bob?

Lawrence Talbot
2 years ago
Reply to  PennyPA

There are several. Garmin (formerly DeLorme) and Spot are two of the most popular units for terrestrial use. There are others that are more oriented towards the marine market, but could also work on land. Outdoors stores and marine stores generally carry them. You do need a monthly subscription for them to work, but it’s cheap insurance. The Garmin and latest Spot device also allow text communications via satellite. We have both plus smaller PLB’s on our individual life jackets on our long range trawler (designed to summon help if you go overboard). Plenty of information on these units online. As to caves, no, they need a clear view of the sky, but I suggest solo spelunking is perhaps not the best choice, especially if you are alone out in the wilderness.

Bob Godfrey
2 years ago

The ACR unit we have does not require a monthly subscription, you only purchase the unit and that’s all.

Bob Godfrey
2 years ago
Reply to  PennyPA

Ours is from a company named ACR who I think is still in Ft. Lauderdale, Fl. The PLB is primarily sold to boat owners but it can be used by anyone since you register your information with the Federal Gov’t. Check with any marine supply house or directly with ACR. The difference between this one and others such as Spot and Garmin is that this does not require a monthy subscription. You pay for the unit and that is all. Ours is several years old and I don’t remember how much we paid for it.

Bob p
2 years ago
Reply to  Bob Godfrey

Does it work if you find a cave and decide to explore it?

Paul Goldberg
2 years ago
Reply to  Bob Godfrey

We keep one in our Jeep and remember to drop it in the backpack when we get out for a walk. It is easy to have a breakdown in the Jeep when wandering off road, or even on back country Jeep trails.

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