Hiking & Backcountry Travel


Even if you are heading out for a short day hike, you should have these in your pack:

  1. Navigation – Be sure to carry a map of the area you intend to travel, a compass, and the knowledge of how to use them. If you use a GPS unit, be sure you are familiar with the unit. Bring a map and compass as a backup as electronics can malfunction unexpectedly.
  2. Sun Protection – Sunglasses and sunblock should be carried, even on cloudy days. Eye protection should be worn during snow travel to prevent snow-blindness which is a painful and debilitating condition.
  3. Insulation – Weather can change suddenly. Be prepared for the worst possible weather you could encounter. Items you should include are a waterproof jacket, an extra layer of warmth (such as a fleece sweater), extra socks, gloves, and a warm hat.
  4. Illumination – In the event your trip lasts longer than anticipated, you could find yourself on trail in the dark. Having a flashlight or headlamp could be the difference between getting off the mountain tonight or having to wait until the next day.
  5. First Aid Supplies – There is no exact list of what a person should carry for a particular trip, but here are some suggestions that would be appropriate. Band aids, adhesive tape, gauze pads, tweezers, over-the-counter pain reliever and antihistamine, compression bandage (such as an Ace bandage), and a triangle bandage to act as an arm sling.
  6. Fire – It can become very cold at night, even in the summer, and an emergency fire could be a lifesaver. Some suggestions would be a lighter, fire-starter, matches, chemical heat tabs, etc.
  7. Repair Kit & Tools – Items can and will break. Build yourself an emergency repair kit to deal with backpacks that won’t zip, tears in clothing, tent poles that snap, etc. Some suggestions are duct tape, knife, safety pin, fabric patches, safety pins, etc.
  8. Nutrition – Besides bringing a regular amount for the expected duration of your trip, be sure to bring extra in case you are out longer than planned, especially foods that require no cooking such as nuts, bars, etc
  9. Hydration – Remember that we drink more when we are expending extra energy so account for that when you are deciding how much water to bring. If you plan on filtering or treating water on the way, verify that water will be available and that your filtering system is working correctly before you go.
  10. Emergency Shelter – For day hikers, this doesn't have to be a full tent, but something that will provide some warmth and help protect from the elements. Even an emergency space blanket or bivy will provide additional protection.


Trip plans should include what time you are leaving, what time you expect to be back, where you are going. Include what time someone should call 911 should you not return. Follow-up with a call to those who have your trip plan as soon as you return home.

Download a hiking/trip plan template (PDF)


  • Review recent trip reports (e.g. Washington Trails Association) and trail conditions
  • Read and understand the terrain, trail and map before you go
  • Check weather forecasts, avalanche and snow conditions, etc.
    • National Weather Service
    • Northwest Avalanche Center
    • WSDOT Stevens Pass (includes snow depth reports)
  • Carry a map and compass and know how to use them
  • Wear clothes and shoes that are made for rugged terrain (boots or sturdy running shoes vs. flip flops) and changing weather/temperatures (layers of synthetic clothing items vs. a cotton tank top and shorts).


Stop, Think, Observe and Plan:

  • Stop: Stay put. Unless the area you are in is unsafe, don't go any farther, but don't panic, either. Count to 10, drink some water or eat a little food. These acts often give you a fresh perspective and help you better assess your situation.
  • Think: Where were you when you were last certain of your location? Was it at a trail junction? A river crossing? A place where you can take bearings to obvious physical landmarks that appear on the map? Can you navigate back to that point? Can you hear or see helpful landmarks like a road or trail? If so, carefully return to that spot and reevaluate your options.
  • Observe: Put your senses on full alert. Picture in your mind all distinctive features you spotted as you came to your current position. Remember the details or any oddities that spurred you to make a mental note. Can you use them as waypoints to guide you back to a place where you were confident of your location? If so, return to that spot. Can you connect with a known trail from that point? Do so. If not, stay put. It's easier for rescuers to find you near your original line of travel. Are there any items there that can be useful to you? Any hazards you need to avoid? When will it get dark? How does the weather look?
  • Plan: If you are with others, talk over a plan. If not, it can be useful to say the plan out loud as if you were explaining it to someone else. If it makes sense, then follow your plan. If not, revise your plan. If the situation changes as you follow that plan, use "STOP" again to improve your chances for a safe rescue.

Search and Rescue

The Snohomish County Sheriff's Office Search and Rescue Unit is a unit within the Sheriff’s Office comprised of volunteers and personnel trained and equipped to perform searches, rescues and recoveries in a variety of terrain. This unit is supported by the Snohomish County Volunteer Search and Rescue (SCVSAR), a nonprofit organization comprised of about 300 members from all around Snohomish County with eight different units and several specialty teams, including the Helicopter Rescue Team, Swift Water Rescue, K-9 SAR, 4X4 Rescue, Tracking and Mountain Rescue.

While Search and Rescue missions do cost money and time, the Snohomish County SAR does not charge victims for rescue. In a county that boasts some the best outdoor recreational activities in the world, charging for rescues deters people from calling for help immediately. Delayed rescues cost money, time and lives. The vast bulk of manpower and services are provided by volunteers spending their own time and money, using their own equipment to be out there.

However, only half of our rescue missions involve people enjoying the outdoors. Our SAR teams have searched in the city for lost children, the elderly, and people with disabilities and we assist law enforcement with searches for criminals.