This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my disclosure for more information.
Back in my post about Rule #10, I detailed how nothing will ever go entirely as planned. That’s true, but it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t do any planning. I love spontaneity, but there is definitely a time to make a plan and stick with it. In the same post, I briefly introduced the concept of the Flight Plan. This post will go into more detail, because if there is an accident, an injury, or you get lost, this plan may very well save your life.
What is a Flight Plan?
The term comes from aviation, as you may have guessed. In the strictest sense, a flight plan is a document that provides detailed information about a planned flight that is filed with officials for both legal and safety reasons. It usually includes the names of the captain, crew, passengers, a list of cargo, the type of plane, the route the plan will take, the departure and arrival points, and the anticipated duration. If the plane crashes, the flight plan lets rescuers know who and what to look for, and where to search.
But I’m not a pilot, so what I mean when I say Flight Plan is a little different. Simply put, it’s letting someone know where you’re going, when you’re going, with whom you’re going, and when to expect you back. Realistically, for a lot of outings, that will be all that you need. For instance, when Clarissa and I go day hiking, we always text someone to let them know where we’re going and what we’re doing. When we’re done, we always text that same person to let them know we’re safe and sound. For small excursions such as day hikes or designated camping, this is really all you’ll need. The longer, more complicated, and more isolated your excursions become, however, the more details you’ll need to put into your Flight Plan.
Think about it… Emergencies happen. Accidents happen. People get injured. People get lost. These things happen, and they have the potential to be life ending if you’re unable to return to your car, make a phone call, and no one knew when you were supposed to be back, or even where to start looking. Proper planning, however, increases the likelihood of safe return dramatically. A simple text message won’t work as a Flight Plan in these situations. So let’s review what information should go into our Flight Plan.
What to include:
- The name, phone number, address, and pertinent medical information of yourself and everyone in your party.
Names, numbers, and addresses are obvious. Medical information is also incredibly important. Does Bob have diabetes, does Cathy have a bum knee, does Tony have a heart condition? These are things that rescuers should know if they need to come locate you and provide medical care.
- Departure and arrival date & time.
This will let people know when to expect you back, as well as how long you’ve been gone. Make sure that you’re leaving enough time to accommodate unforeseen obstacles. Heavy rains can slow you down, you may need to tend minor injuries, such as blisters, or purify more water than expected. Take these into account when planning, so that if you get slowed down you won’t end up causing a panic in your plan-holder
- The nature of the trip/planned activities.
Are you hiking, climbing, biking, taking a road trip? Make sure your plan reflects that.
Where are you leaving from, what will you be doing, where will you stop along the way, when will you return. This seems like it kills spontaneity, and to a certain extent it does. That’s really part of the point; if you’re not prepared to climb a cliff face when you leave on your hike, then you probably shouldn’t climb said cliff face in the spur of the moment. But it’s probably okay to take a quick dip in a lake if conditions are safe and favorable. The point is not that you have to have every second of every day mapped out, but that you have key trip elements outlined. Make sure you’re including waypoints if you’re stopping at multiple places on you trip.
You should include a map with your Flight Plan, with your route and stops plotted out. It’s just one more way for people to know where to find you if there is an emergency.
- Vehicle information.
Record the make, model, color, condition, and license plate. If you’re hiking, note at what trailhead it will be parked.
- Description of your Gear.
You don’t have to outline everything that you’re taking, but it can be helpful to describe pertinent equipment. For example, in an aerial search, it would be helpful for searchers to know that you were using a bright red tent or a blue tarp.
- Contact information for local authorities.
Who needs to get the information in your Flight Plan in the event that you don’t show up. Calling the police in your hometown is one thing, but it would save time to call the Ranger Station at the National Forest through which you’re hiking.
- Any other pertinent details.
If there is something that you think would be useful for people to know, include it. Better to include a little more information than necessary rather than not enough.
Who gets the Flight Plan?
First, be aware that some trails and parks require that you file your plan with their rangers. You may need to do so prior to getting a hiking or camping permit at some locations. Make sure that you’re doing your due diligence in your research beforehand, and have a copy ready for them. I also advise leaving a copy in the glove compartment of your vehicle if you are leaving it at a trailhead. Hopefully it won’t be necessary, but it’s nice to know that it’s there. Which is the whole point of the Flight Plan anyway.
Other than that, make sure your plan-holder is someone you trust who is going to be available during the entirety of the trip. It won’t do you any good if you’re not back when you’re supposed to be, but the plan-holder takes their own trip in your absence. Make sure that whoever gets your plan knows that it’s important and what to do if you don’t return when expected.
I prefer to file my plan with one of a few people, depending on the situation. Here’s my go-to list:
- My wife
If my wife isn’t going with me on the trip, then she always has a copy of my Flight Plan.
- My mother
My mother always gets a copy of my plan. Because she’s going to ask all these questions anyway.
- A local friend or coworker
It’s great for my mom to have a copy, but she lives four hours away, so it’s nice for someone local to have a copy as well. Coworkers are great, because they’ll notice if you’re not at work on Monday.
If you give this plan to more than one person, you need to make sure that they don’t assume that they others will call the authorities in an emergency. Your plan will do you no good if everyone assumes that they don’t need to hold up their end. And of course, make sure that when you do return that you alert the people who have your plan so they don’t end up calling the authorities when you’re safe at home. That won’t make anyone happy.
What if plans change?
It’s best practice to not change plans. In reality, sometimes you may need to alter your course of action. That being said, I have a general rule when it comes to changing my plans; the more difficult it is to update the people who have your flight plan, the less you should change. This varies with your activity, of course. If you’re taking a road trip, it’s easy to call home and update your Flight Plan. Just make sure that whoever is holding it makes adequate note of any changed plans in writing. This is considerably more difficult if you’re backpacking sixty miles on your trip and might enter areas outside of cell signal (sounds crazy, I know, but believe me, it will happen). If you cannot contact your plan-holder, you should avoid making changes. Still, you may have to alter your course for safety’s sake. For example, if you’re planning on crossing a bridge but discover it is unsafe to cross, don’t cross it. But if you know from your map that there is another bridge five miles upstream, I think it is acceptable to make that detour if you then return to your planned route of travel. Yes, that would add an additional ten miles to your trip, but you shouldn’t cross that unsafe bridge, and you shouldn’t continue on a different trail than the one indicated in your Flight Plan. So despite the additional ten miles, you should definitely return to the planned route after the detour.
Minor alterations or detours are one thing, but if your plan starts to fall apart, too many alterations are necessary, you have no way to update your plan-holders, or the journey becomes unsafe, it’s time to consider bailing out. There are some things you just can’t plan for, and in conjunction to your Flight Plan, you should have a Bail Out Plan. For now just remember, if you have any doubts about your safety or security, bail out.
Do you have any questions about a Flight Plan? Is there anything you think I missed? Let me know in the comments.