When to Leave and When to Stay: Protocols for Injured Companions

You and a buddy are hiking in a beautiful, yet very remote, area. It’s all fun and games, until he … Continued

You and a buddy are hiking in a beautiful, yet very remote, area. It’s all fun and games, until he falls and becomes seriously injured. You don’t have a personal locator beacon or satellite phone, and your cell phone has no service. You’re not a doctor, nor do you have the medial equipment to accurately assess his injuries. All you know is this: He can’t move on his own, he’s in great pain, and you’re now both embroiled in a survival situation. What do you do?

This scenario is a scary one, for sure. You are worried about your friend’s wellbeing, and your own. So is he. This story shows us both the merits and flaws of the buddy system. Yes, there is an unharmed person who can go get help for his injured companion, but this departure leaves the injured person all alone. I’m a devotee of the principal of leaving no man behind, but what if staying in place means the possibility of death for you both? Here are some guidelines to make the tough calls.

You expect rescue
You did the right thing before the two of you left for your trip and told someone the details of your excursion. When you don’t show up on your return date, they will know something is wrong and will have an idea of where you are located. This is the best version of a bad situation, and it means that you should stay with your buddy until help arrives. Since you are able bodied, you can employ a variety of signal methods and assist with your own rescue while providing medical care, food, and water for your friend.

You don’t expect rescue, but he can be moved
If spinal injuries and other major injuries seem to be absent, and you have no reason to expect rescue, you can try to evacuate your pal on your own. Since slinging him over your shoulder would be exhausting for you and likely aggravate his injuries, construct a travois. Do so by lashing together strong poles and attaching a platform between them. Drag this contraption like a sled as your buddy lays atop the platform. Make frequent stops to prevent exhaustion. Continue making your way toward civilization, signaling periodically and attempting to use your cell phone.

You don’t expect rescue, and he can’t be moved
This is a very dire situation. No help is expected and, due to the severity of the injury, you don’t feel that you can move your friend. This leaves you with just two options: Stay with him and continue signaling for help, or set him up with food and water and make your way to find help. If your buddy is unconscious, this becomes an even more difficult choice. Unable to drink or feed himself and severely injured, he might not last until you return with help. Of course, all kinds of factors come into play during this worst-case scenario. Distance to help, prevalence of predatory animals in the area, the condition of the injured man, and many other factors prevent this from being a cut-and-dry decision to leave or stay. If you decide that leaving is the only chance of saving your friend, set him up as comfortably and safely as you can. Put him in a shelter, in his sleeping bag. Hang a hydration bladder so he can easily get drinking water. Create ample signals around the campsite to make it easier to find, day or night. And mark the trail as you hike out so you can easily find your way back to your friend.

Whatever you end up doing, one thing is for certain: A functional locator beacon or satellite phone would allow you to signal your distress from anywhere, and keep you from having to make some gut-wrenching decisions in the aftermath of a medical emergency.

Have you ever found yourself in a stay-or-go predicament? Tell us your story in the comments.