You're stranded in the backcountry. Your vehicle has run out of gas or something broke, leaving you unable to drive. The type of vehicle doesn't matter, except that larger vehicles can carry more survival supplies. But what matters now is that you're way back in the hinterlands, miles from civilization, and the vehicle that got you there is out of action. You're stuck.
It's decision time. Do you stay or go? Do you stick with the failed vehicle or do you attempt to hike back to civilization?
I've been in search helicopters looking for folks in exactly this situation, and I can tell you from personal experience that if you decide to leave your vehicle and try to hoof it out, rescue teams in the air and on the ground will have more difficulty finding you. They may find the truck, but entirely miss seeing you. This is especially true if you were to hike crosscountry rather than following the road or trail.
In favor of staying with the vehicle and awaiting rescue are the following:
- The vehicle is a ready-made shelter.
- All your supplies are at the vehicle site.
- By staying, you conserve energy, meaning you need less food and water.
- The vehicle is more visible than a lone hiker to search and rescuers teams.
- The vehicle serves as a psychological attachment to civilization, helping ward off feelings of panic.
- By staying, the entire party (if there are others in your group) can work together to improve the camp, maintain signal fires, gather firewood, water and food as well as bolstering each other's spirit.
- Sticking to camp is less risky from an injury standpoint than hiking crosscountry.
- Staying with the vehicle allows you to exploit all the resources of the locale, whereas a hiker can never take full advantage of the natural resources for survival because he is constantly moving.
- If removing the hood of the truck and placing it in a clearing will make it more visible, do it.
- Have signal fires ready to ignite (smoke by day, flames by night).
- Clear brush away from the vehicle.
- Arrange brightly colored items on the ground to attract attention.
- Remove sideview mirrors and use them for signaling.
The decision to leave the vehicle and attempt to hike out for help should be made only if every item in the following list can honestly be met:
- You are absolutely certain that nobody is going to come looking for you at this location.
- Your health and fitness level (and that of your party) will permit the rigorous journey.
- You are positive of the direction and distance to reach help, and know you can overcome every terrain obstacle along the route.
- After taking inventory of your supplies, you determine that you have everything necessary to successfully make the hike.
If you decide to leave the vehicle, it is important to leave a note in a highly visible place notifying rescuers of the following:
- Your name, address, phone number, next of kin — and the same for every member of the party.
- Your age, state of health and condition of fitness — same for everyone else.
- A detailed description of your clothing and equipment.
- A detailed hike plan including the time and date you left the vehicle, your intended destination, direction of travel, and intended campsites along the way.
The decision to leave a disabled vehicle and hike out is a difficult one. The wrong decision can sometimes mean the difference between simply an unexpected stay in the wilderness and a true survival situation.