Of all the essential steps you should take to ensure your safe return from the wilderness, especially if you’re going solo, the absolute BEST thing you can do before you go out, is to tell at least two responsible people (in SEPARATE social circles!!!) where you’re going and when you’ll be back, AND, give them an information sheet!!! Most every area/agency has a similar sheet you can download, but I’ve never seen one that is adequate, in my opinion. Here is mine, but feel free to use it as a template or create your own:
AREA AGENCY TO CONTACT
This line is for your emergency contacts, it reminds them they can call 9-1-1, but you may also know the agency they can call directly (Include the phone number if possible).
This is your basic information. Everything they need to know about you so the teams can identify you at a distance including your phone number. This paragraph should also include some basic information about you such as any health/physical issues, experience level, etc. NOTE: It may also be possible to “ping” your phone to get your location, so be sure to leave your phone on and bring an extra battery!
This is important because SAR will want to start a separate investigation to verify whether you actually ARE in the wilderness to begin with, and to have someone you know at the command post. But be SURE your emergency contacts will be home/available during your entire outing AND try to select contacts that are in DIFFERENT social circles (i.e. family and friends, or co-workers and roommates, etc.).
These are the names and numbers of the others in your group. Obviously EACH person in your group should also complete an Emergency Information Sheet! NOTE: Unless you are advanced/experienced (and even then, you should reconsider whether to go solo!), ALWAYS go with a partner, preferably at least two partners.
This is also helpful information for SAR to have so they know they may be able to follow your digital trail and maybe contact you directly.
Here it will be helpful for SAR to know how well prepared you are in case something happens. If they see you are well prepared, they may feel you can last longer and may search for you longer.
FOOTWEAR PRINT INFO’
This may help SAR save some time AND help track you faster and better on land. Knowing your footwear brand and type is something SAR always likes to know whenever possible because they'll have someone researching your tread design so they can pass that on to the search parties who will use it to track you (being proactive will save EVERYONE a lot of time if you do things like this FOR them!). Whether you download a picture of your tread, or take a picture yourself, just "insert" it into your Word document (I also make it black-and-white to feature the tread, not the colors).
This starts with the name of the area/wilderness/wilderness park and the starting/ending trailhead/s. Then your daily itinerary listing your intended campsites. NOTE: Spontaneity is a good thing, but ALWAYS try to stick to the written plan as closely as possible!! That way if something goes wrong, finding you will be MUCH faster and easier! (Normally I'd use dates instead of day numbers, but I haven't scheduled this outing yet).
This makes it easy for SAR personnel to SEE your route at-a-glance and delegate area searches to the teams (with most areas, especially popular areas, you can find and download a PDF topo' map). In Adobe Acrobat, I use the "free form"-"drawing markup" tool to trace my planned route. Then I convert the map to JPEG and "insert" it into the Word document (being able to include the legend this time was just luck!).
Obviously for this Emergency Information Sheet to be most helpful, it needs to be ACCURATE and CURRENT (including the description of your clothes, gear and supplies). So, if your health status or gear changes, it should be reflected here! I do this in MS Word so I can easily edit, and if I like certain outings, I'll save that version so I don't have to "reinvent the wheel" every time I want to go on that particular route. Yes, you can print it double-sided or on two pages, but I always bring one hard copy (on each person if I have a group with me) so I can drop it off at a Ranger Station if I check-in or just to have with me in case something happens.
NOTE: In addition to telling people where you're going and when you'll be back, you can also DELAY-email the information sheet a day or two after your scheduled return as an added measure.
ALSO: Stick to the plan! The more you deviate from it, the harder you make it on those who are trying to find/help you!!!
There is great advice in this posting and it will be quite helpful to those who would be searching for you if you are hung up in the woods. Rarely do you get his much info, so be preped to treat the searchers for shock.
There are a few additional steps one can take to help searchers. Seriously consider carrying a PLB (Personal Locator Beacon). Some models even have two way communication ability. See a good overview of these items here on this web site.
Searches often these days have an aerial component and a signal mirror is a light, cheap way of signalling your location to searchers, either in the air or on the ground. Bright clothing and the ability to construct visual signals can be extremely useful. After all, the reason you might be late is because you, for any of various reasons, were unable to follow your planned itinerary and are now off route.
Signal fires can be useful, and will surely attract attention, but be aware of burn conditions. Epic blazes have been unintentionally started by lost persons- it is not worth the risk in borderline conditions.
I doubt that any responsible search agency will diminish their efforts because they feel you are beyond an estimated time of survival, based on the gear you carry. The variance is far too wide for any such decision. Eventually, after weeks or even months, efforts may be scaled back, but they never stopcompletely.
@hikermor LOL, "treat searchers for shock." As I've said before, statistically, phones have been used to get help FAR more often than PLBs (about 36% as opposed to about 4%). However, PLBs are a great option! In fact, I carry two, the Garmin InReach Mini (which I keep with me when it's not on my pack) and the ACR RescueMe (which I always keep on my survival kit, which I always keep on my belt). Although both are capable of transmitting an SOS signal, I use the InReach for more general communication, weather forecast and GPS purposes. But to reiterate, while PLBs are great, especially where/when you have no phone signal, you're far more likely to use a phone (particularly if you're a day hiker).
I had a reader once suggest putting the info' sheet in a plastic bag along with a small article of clothing like a sock (for tracking dogs). I suppose that's an option, it seems to me that if you stick to the plan, they will ALREADY have a pretty good idea of where you are (or should be). But, if you're prone to going off plan (and off trail), then maybe.
I also have an emergency kit, which is part first-aid and part signaling kit. The signaling kit contains an aerial flare, a smoke flare, a laser flare, a reflector and a whistle. A friend of mine once said, "You're too safe!" LOL, 'TOO safe!!' Two words... "solo" and "backcountry."
The Alaska state troopers have created this handy sheet for people to fill out and give to their friends:
It contains much of the information you highlighted, minus the boot tread. I'd suggest that instead of 'Day 1' that you have listed on your sheet you have the exact date. That way there is less ambiguity.
Ya, that's not so different from what I've seen from other agencies (I like mine better!). Also, as I said, "...Normally I'd use dates instead of day numbers, but I haven't scheduled this outing yet...."