What to do in an emergency

STOP!  Sink, Think, Observe, Plan

According to many experts, when people realize they are lost or otherwise in danger they often pick a direction at random and start running. To combat this tendency to panic, we encourage you remember the acronym STOP.


SIT: As soon as you realize you are lost or in trouble somehow, stop what you are doing and sit down.


THINK: Once sitting down, think about the situation. Where are you? What is the problem? What are the possible solutions to the problem? What are the pros and cons of each option?


OBSERVE: Assess your location. Is this area dangerous? Is there shelter and water? What is the weather like? What time is it? Will you need to camp there for the night?


PLAN: Based upon your assessments of the situation and your location, determine a course of action. Remain positive and take care of your immediate needs first: food, water, heat, shelter, getting dry, et cetera.


The most common emergency situation is injury. If you are injured, first STOP. Sit down, take off your pack, and think about the problem. After assessing the injury and attempting basic first aid, if you decide the injury is so severe you need to get off-trail soon and need help doing so, follow these steps:


Stay Put

If you are injured and cannot hike on, sit tight and wait. Since the PCT is so heavily traveled during thru-hiker season someone will find you. However, if the weather is bad there will be fewer people hiking and after dark you may not see anyone at all. If you are in the desert, find shade but stay close to the Trail.


Keep Your Pack

Always keep your pack with you, even if you are injured and carrying it is difficult. Your pack contains clothes, shelter, food, and water—things that will keep you alive.


Stay on Trail

If you can keep hiking, don’t try to take a “shortcut” to a road by bushwhacking. There is no such thing as a shortcut. Bushwhacking is always slower and the terrain more dangerous than the Trail itself. Besides, you will get lost unless you have been trained in orienteering, are proficient in it, and have a map and compass. That does not describe most thru-hikers. Additionally, you are much harder to find by search-and-rescue crews when off-trail.


Determine Your Location

Break out your maps and guidebook and determine your location as best you can. Emergency dispatchers will not know “mile 1,557 of the Pacific Crest Trail” or “the Whiskey Creek campsite,” so estimate your location with respect to the nearest trailhead, road, and town. Park and forest rangers will know geographic landmarks like bridges, rivers, streams, mountain peaks, or other notable geologic formations. Android and iPhones have GPS antennas, and you should have downloaded the free Halfmile app, so use to determine your location (this feature works even if you have no bars).


Try Calling 911

If you have a phone, see if it gets a signal and can dial out. It probably won’t. If it does, give the dispatcher your location and explain your condition.

Cell Phones ≠ Safety

People like to bring cell phones into the wilderness because it makes them feel safe. But cell phones don't make anyone safer — just the opposite — having a cell phone gives people a false sense of security and they become more likely to take risks or do things they otherwise would not do. Believing cell phones are a safety net, people take dangerous leaps.


Despite California's mega-state status, much of the time you cannot get a cell signal. The Sierras are where injuries, accidents, and emergencies are most likely to occur because the Trail is often above treeline, covered in snow, ice, and rocks. There is no cell reception in the Sierras.

Luck Favors the Prepared

Remember the Rule of Threes you can survive without oxygen or from severe bleeding for about 3 minutes, survive exposure to extreme heat or cold for up to 3 hours, survive without water for 3 days, and survive without food for 3 weeks. We've never needed to test the accuracy of these figures. we've always gotten lucky, but as Branch Rickey's truism says, luck is not the same as fate.

In large part this website exists to help you be prepared, which is the best way to prevent injuries, accidents, and emergencies from every occurring. Here is our list of things to do while on trail:

Carry a Light Pack

to reduce likelihood of stress fractures, rolled ankles, falls, and other injuries.


Prepare Physically for the Trail

because you have to hike at least 16 miles on the first time. There is no warm-up time on the PCT. It throws you into the deep end and you have to swim.


Have All Necessary Gear

Just because its the desert doesn't mean it won't rain or snow. Have rain gear and warm clothes on day one.


Carry a First Aid Kit

We discuss what to carry here.


Carry a Pocket First Aid Guide

because a first aid kit doesn't do you any good if you don't know how to use it. It can be an ebook to save weight.


Carry an Extra Cell Battery

It's worth the weight.


Bear Bag Even When You Don’t Think You Need To

It doesn't matter where you are, even the desert, there can always be bears.

Read the Weather

pay attention to the skies and set up camp before bad weather strikes.


Allow Yourself to Stop / Zero

Don't push yourself to hike through bad weather or an injury just to make miles. The risk isn't worth it.

Filter Your Damn Water

We see a lot of hikers with cavalier attitudes about water. Just because it's crystal clear and comes from a spring doesn't make it safe. Sawyer Minis are so light, there is no excuse not to carry a filter.


Carry More Water than You Think You Need

We've seen a lot of hikers carrying very little water in order to save weight. They end up not drinking when they need to in order to conserve it. That's a recipe for heatstroke.


Don’t Depend on Water Caches

Even if you heard it's reliable.


Don’t Hike at Midday

when temperatures can reach 120 degrees.