Let’s say you were lost in the backcountry and you could only choose one item to increase your chance of survival, what would it be…GPS? map? compass? matches? knife? emergency blanket? survival manual? The list is endless, and while all those things can improve your odds, there is one item most of us never think about, it’s a Trip Plan. The best part is, unlike all that survival gear, it doesn’t add any weight to your pack.
Pilots call them “Flight Plans”, backcountry canoeists call them “Float Plans” and backpackers call them “Hike Plans”, but whatever you call them, a Trip Plan can add an element of safety to your outdoor adventures by giving your potential rescuers a time and place to start looking for you if you don’t arrive at your destination.
Whether it’s a full on backcountry expedition, or an hour long hike, a trip plan may be your most important survival tool. Think of it like an insurance policy, it only pays out when something goes wrong.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to say that as long as you fill out a trip plan you can head off on an outdoor adventure totally unprepared, on the contrary. Completing a trip plan should be one of your first steps in getting prepared. Remember that electronic gadgets like a GPS can fail for any number of reasons, and nothing in your survival kit will get you out of the woods if you can’t walk because of an injury. It can be as simple as telling a friend or family member that you are heading out for a hike, what time you expect to return, and where you are starting from. Actually, that is the bare minimum you should do before heading out on any trip.
The longer or more complex the trip, the more information you should include. A trip plan for a week long backcountry canoe trip should outline your departure and arrival information (dates, times, and locations), what equipment you are carrying, the colour of your tents and canoes, as well as names and emergency contact information for members of your group, and any medical conditions (allergies, heart conditions, bad knees, etc.), plus your vehicle description and licence plate number. It should also contain your planned route of travel, and at least one alternate route you may take if you need to cut the trip short for any reason.
Once you have filled out your plan, leave a copy with someone you trust to contact authorities if you are overdue. Stick to it as much as possible, your plan won’t help Search and Rescue teams find you if it says you are starting out from Canoe Lake in Algonquin Park, but you changed your mind when you got there and decided to put in at Opeongo Lake instead. They may eventually find you but in the case of a medical emergency the initial time wasted searching the route you listed on your trip plan could mean the difference between a successful rescue and a body recovery.
Below is a link to a Trip Plan you can download and print. Get in the habit of using them for every trip, because just like your PFD, survival kit or the seatbelt in your car, hopefully you will never need it, but if you do it could just save your life.