Heat can kill, getting lost can be fatal; how to survive the heat, be found when you’re lost or in distress

It's hot! | St. George News image

SOUTHERN UTAH – With every spring and summer come reports of deaths in the outdoors, often from someone’s heatstroke or dehydration, sometimes in the company of others, sometimes when a hiker gets lost and can’t be found in time for lifesaving measures to be administered. You can avoid such tragedy by being prepared, equipped and aware of steps to take as temperatures rise and what to do to help yourself be found when you are lost or in distress.

Three anecdotes

It can be something as simple as a little pink ribbon that saves your life:

It was a miracle, Kane County Emergency Services Sgt. Alan Alldredge said of locating Richard Ong in May 2014. Ong had visited the Paria Canyon-Vermillion Cliffs wilderness area and got lost. A Search and Rescue team member in a remote area caught sight of something like a little pink ribbon, tied to a backpack, flapping in the wind leading him to Ong. Read more: Search, rescue crews find lost hiker near The Wave

Being prepared for the unexpected can save your life:

Distress can occur when you are going on a simple hike or about your everyday business. In May, Washington County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue team responded to two incidents in the west desert in one day. A father and son were backpacking when the father twisted his knee and was unable to keep walking; the two ran out of water. A FedEx truck became stuck in the sand and the driver set out on foot for help, ending up an hour away from her vehicle and low on water. Read more: 2 west desert rescues: FedEx truck stuck; stranded father, son

Groups run into trouble too:

In July 2014, a well-equipped group of 30 hiking an area west of Gunlock needed assistance for heat exhaustion. On a day hike, the majority headed back to camp at one point while four continued on. The majority party later learned the other four had run out of water and were having trouble returning to camp. Search and Rescue members were called for assistance. Read more: 30 hikers call for help after suffering heat exhaustion; hiking safety tips

Prepare to be found 

  • Learn to read maps and how to wayfind using landmarks
  • Setting cairns – piles of marker rocks – can be helpful but beware that someone else’s  cairn may misdirect you; (setting cairns on some public lands is prohibited)
  • Load up on fuel foods days in advance of a hike
  • Keep hydrated (see below)
  • Leave an itinerary with relatives or friends
  • Read available materials and consult with public staff and local outfitters and guides to learn about the area you plan to explore before you go
  • Know your own limitations, health conditions, abilities, and body’s reaction to extreme heat and other weather conditions
  • Wear bright clothing that can be easily spotted
    • Don’t wear camouflage or muddy colors
    • Do wear bright blue, bright or fluourescent lime greens and oranges, or even reds, that are more easily spotted
  • Carry or wear a bright handkerchief or scarf that you can wave at a search team or helicopter
  • Carry a small flashlight; even in daytime a small flashlight can deliver a glint that catches attention
  • Carry a small mirror or anything that will reflect a glint that can catch a helicopter pilot’s eye
  • Don’t rely on your cellphone; many areas you explore may not have reception, and cellphones can fail in the heat
  • Carry a GPS tracking device
    • These may work where cellphones won’t
    • Set waypoints at the trailhead, and at points along the way, that you can use to find your way back using the device
  • Those who hike often might consider a Spot Locator device and service – when injured or lost you press a button to signal the company, which notifies the nearest sheriff’s office of your exact location


  • Hydrating is the intake or absorption of necessary fluids, water being the best unless there is strenuous exertion or unusual circumstances
  • Fluid losses increase as the body sweats
  • Humans do not store water; what goes out in 24 hours must be replaced
  • Signs of dehydration: fatigue, lightheadedness, dizziness, dark yellow urine (if it’s the color of apple juice, drink more water; if it’s the color of lemonade, you’re usually OK), increased heart rate, skin loses elasticity, overheating, muscle cramps, constipation, loss of tears, parched throat and lips
  • Take plenty of water on your hike, in your vehicle, wherever you go
  • Don’t wait until you’re thirsty; thirst is an indicator that you are already behind on fluids
  • Hydrate and rehydrate before, during and after activity
  • Schedule periodic water intake
  • Consume water or fluids when you eat
  • Keep water at your bedside
  • Attend to those at higher risk (see section below)

Heat exhaustion

  • Heat exhaustion is less severe than heat stroke
  • Heat exhaustion includes two types: water depletion and salt depletion
    • Water depletion is indicated by extreme thirst, weakness, fainting and headache
    • Salt depletion is indicated by nausea, vomiting, dizziness and muscle cramps
  • If the symptoms are not addressed swiftly, heat exhaustion can lead to heatstroke


  • Heatstroke is a medical emergency and can kill or cause damage to the brain and other internal organs
  • The body often progresses from dehydration to heat exhaustion and eventually to heatstroke
  • Heatstroke symptoms include: throbbing headache; dizziness and light-headedness; lack of sweating despite the heat; red, hot and dry skin; muscle weakness or cramps; nausea and vomiting; rapid heartbeat, which may be either strong or weak; rapid, shallow breathing; behavioral changes such as confusion, disorientation or staggering; seizures; and unconsciousness.
  • If you suspect someone is experiencing the symptoms of heatstroke, call 911 immediately
  • If possible, cool the individual with ice packs or water, and administer first aid

Attend to those at higher risk in the heat

  • Infants
    • Babies should be kept out of the heat if possible, Marty Nygaard, doctor and pediatric medical director at Intermountain’s Dixie Regional Medical Center, said to St. George News in 2014
    • Five to six wet diapers a day is usually a good indication of proper hydration, Intermountain Healthcare Outpatient Dietitian Christie Benton told St. George News in 2014
    • Small amounts of clear liquids should be given frequently if a baby is feverish or vomiting; if fluids can’t be retained, then it’s time to visit the ER
    • “Studies have shown … that children can almost always be re-hydrated without resorting to IV fluids,” Nygaard said in a 2014 survey response to Intermountain. “Sometimes oral hydration requires using a small syringe to give sips.”
  • Kids
    • Schedule water or beverage breaks, especially when they are playing
    • Serve a beverage with meals and snacks
    • Get them their own “cool” water bottle and keep it filled
    • Offer beverages other than water on occasion to add calories and variety, especially for active kids
    • Don’t leave kids in cars when temperatures are even moderately warm; cracking a window in cars won’t help  in just 10 minutes, a car’s temperature can increase by 19 degrees and will continue to rise; children left inside a vehicle quickly overheat, resulting in devastating injury, permanent brain damage or death.  Read more: Did you forget something? Don’t make this deadly summertime mistake
  • Seniors
    • Seniors are at greater risk of dehydration because they may be less aware of thirst
    • Seniors are less mobile, which may impair their ability to provide self-care and self-hydration
    • Seniors may be on diuretics or medications that cause water loss and amplify the effects of dehydration
    • Compromised kidney function may cause water loss
    • Be liberal with water with seniors
    • Seniors should need to empty the bladder about every two to three hours during the day
  • Pets
    • For the most part, dogs do not sweat, and they cannot tolerate high environmental temperatures
    • Dogs depend upon panting to exchange warm air for cool air; when the air temperature is close to their body temperature, panting is not an efficient cooling process for them
    • Heat stroke is an indicated emergency for canines and requires immediate treatment; it is similarly so for other animals
    • Don’t leave pets in cars when temperatures are even moderately warm; cracking a window won’t help in just 10 minutes, a car’s temperature can increase by 19 degrees and will continue to rise; animals left inside a vehicle quickly overheat, resulting in devastating injury, permanent brain damage or death
    • Don’t exercise your dog strenuously in hot, humid weather
    • Take care with brachycephalic breeds; bulldogs, pugs and Pekingese are at especially high risk for heat issues
    • Heart or lung disease can interfere with efficient breathing
    • Dogs suffering from high fever or seizures should be kept out of the heat
    • Don’t confine your dog on concrete or asphalt surfaces
    • Be sure your animals have plenty of shade and fresh water wherever they are confined

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