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Staying Safe Outdoors

Exploring the beautiful, vast Pennsylvania outdoors can be fun and memorable. However, the most important part of any trip is staying safe.

In order to protect yourself and others who may exploring with you on our remote, public lands, you first need to plan out your trip and learn what to do if you need help.

Plan Your Adventure

By taking the time to plan and follow a few basic rules, a hike, camping trip, or other activity can be a safe experience you can remember with great joy for a lifetime! Here are some tips to help you plan your safe adventure:

  • Always plan out your trip ahead of time. It is important to lay out your trip, including where you are going, and, if it’s a multiday trip, how far you will travel each day and how long you plan to stay in each area. Plan enough time for day trips to prevent you from traveling after dark without the proper nighttime equipment.
  • Always tell someone where you are going and expected time of return. Write down your plans and indicate on a map where you are going. Let them know that you will call when you return. If they do not hear from you they can contact the proper authorities and a search can be started. Also leave a copy of your plan in your vehicle, too. Do not leave your plan on the dash or seat, where it can be easily spotted by someone hoping to break into vehicles.
  • Don’t rely on your cell phone; take a paper map with you. Cell phones and GPS units are not reliable in remote areas. You may experience a drained battery or no cellular reception. A compass is also a helpful tool that is a perfect companion to your map.
  • Bring other helpful gear. Take matches, a knife, a whistle, food, and water with you. Also remember to always dress properly for the outdoors.
  • Follow your plan. When you’re on your adventure, stay on designated trails and learn what trail markings indicate the trail you need to be on.

If You Need Help

If you need help, do not wait to call for help. If you are calling for help for yourself using a cell phone, dial 911. If there is no 911 service, you will need to know the specific number to call or you will need to call someone you know to call help for you.

For who to call and information about calling for help for someone else, view DCNR’s fact sheet (PDF).

If You Become Lost

  • Remain calm. While this sounds easy, many people will panic when in an undesirable, unfamiliar situation. Remaining calm will help a lost individual make sound, rational decisions.
  • Stop walking. Walking with unfamiliar landmarks will often lead someone who is lost to wander in circles and potentially cause a longer rescue time.
  • Seek/build shelter and a fire depending on weather conditions. Staying warm and dry are two key elements to surviving an extended period in the wild. Preventing hypothermia -- a condition where your body core temperature is too low to sustain your health – is critical. Learn about hypothermia (PDF) and ways to avoid it before you ever become lost in the woods.

As a last resort -- if no one knows your whereabouts, if you do not have the means to stay warm, and if you are at a point of last resort, find a stream and follow the water downstream. All streams in Pennsylvania will eventually lead to a road.