Buying a GPS unit for hiking could save your life. In 2012 there were over 2,800 search and rescue attempts made to rescue injured or lost hikers in the United States. Of those, 35 people died.
While statistics aren’t available on how many of those lost or seriously injured hikers did not have GPS or proper two-way communication, it certainly gives us something to think about when venturing into the wilderness.
There are some cardinal rules of backpacking that were perhaps broken to generate so many thousands of rescue cases, such as: hiking alone, hiking without proper gear, not notifying people of your route and expected time of return, deviating from marked trails, etc.
But it’s safe to say that getting lost must have been the main reason behind many of those rescue attempts and fatalities. And getting lost is easily preventable with some preparation.
That’s why I strongly recommend investing in getting handheld GPS for hiking use. There are so many affordable and awesome units out there, especially by Garmin, that there is really no reason not to have.
If you’re completely lost in the wilderness, a GPS unit will:
- (Usually) Prevent you from getting lost in the first place
- Allow you to pinpoint your position and identify important landmarks nearby to navigate to (roads and trails)
- Send an emergency SOS signal to rescuers if injured and unable to travel (on select GPS for hiking units such as DeLorme’s nReach)
- Allow you to communicate with the rest of your party in areas with no cellular coverage (on certain units like Garmin’s Rino series)
The first reason, not getting lost in the first place, is perhaps the most important. Having to activate an emergency beacon is embarrassing and costly at best and harrowing and deadly at worst. For you AND for the rescuers.
I have a strong opinion about this: if you are a negligent hiker, meaning that you break some cardinal rule recklessly, and need to be rescued then you are unfairly endangering the lives of rescuers. Helicopter pilots, crews, paramedic, and searchers are all risking their lives to save you in a preventable situation. Especially when buying GPS for hiking for a fraction of a paycheck could prevent getting lost in the first place.
Buy one, learn how to use it, and explore the outdoors responsibility.