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How to communicate an emergency when hiking or mountaineering

How to communicate an emergency when hiking or mountaineering

Every day more people are encouraged to practice trekking or to crown the summits of our geography, enjoying natural landscapes of great beauty. Unfortunately, there has also been a considerable increase in the number of accidents or emergency situations caused by lack of experience, bad decisions affecting our safety, etc. But in this article we will not go into the reasons that generate these situations, we will focus on the different methods or rather devices that we have at our disposal to communicate in the mountain when an emergency arises when performing the activity.

We have at our disposal different technological devices that can save our lives or help us to solve a compromising situation. Knowing them, knowing how to use them and above all being clear about their limitations and virtues is of great importance. Devices that should always be part of our basic equipment for any activity that we carry out in the middle of nature.

It is not a question of recommending one or another option, nor of explaining the technical details that characterize them. It is a question of knowing the different possibilities that we have, their advantages and disadvantages, and thus being able to choose which of them is more adapted to our activities.

The telephony

Without a doubt, it is the most widespread and used method to communicate an emergency when hiking or mountain biking. In this section we are going to distinguish between two, the terrestrial mobile telephony and the mobile telephony via satellite.

Land Mobile Telephony

How to communicate an emergency when hiking or mountaineering Land mobile phone

As it could not be any other way we are going to start with the most known and used method and or device of all of us, the mobile phone or Smartphone. In our day to day we are used to the full communication that this type of device offers us, voice calls, internet... that along with an uncountable number of applications have turned our phone into an inseparable companion. In addition, thanks to the different APPs that exist, and the multiple sensors that are usually installed on the Smartphone we can have in the same device from a GPS that marks our position and generate tracks, barometers, altimeters ..., not to mention the magnificent APPs of emergencies that exist and we must carry installed, as more than one emergency has been solved thanks to them.

These virtues, together with the generally good coverage we enjoy in a large part of the territory, make this device an unquestionable companion in our activity, but they can also generate a deceptive feeling of security when we go out into the inhospitable natural environment.

One of the peculiarities that every mobile phone has is the famous EMERGENCY CALL.​

How does it work?

  • Allows you to communicate directly with 112
  • It is operational even if the phone is locked or even without a SIM card.
  • It works as long as a phone company, even if it is not ours, has coverage where we are.
  • If no phone company has coverage where we are, it DOES NOT WORK.

The coverage, that little bar on top of our mobiles that has given us so many headaches. And who hasn't had it happen, that even if you have highlighted some of the lines that indicate the coverage, it has been impossible to understand the person you were talking to? Mobile phone repeater antennas have become part of the landscape of our cities and towns, allowing us to have a good service, but how many antennas do we see in our mountains? Fortunately, or unfortunately for some, few or almost none, which makes many areas called black or without coverage and even more regions where the signal does not have the intensity that we enjoy in cities, making an expensive but nice "brick" our glamorous smartphone last generation, along with many of its APP.

How to communicate an emergency when hiking or mountain biking, emergency call

How to communicate an emergency when hiking or mountaineering, coverage

This lack of repeaters forces our mobile to intensify its work by having to be either looking for a signal or giving more intensity to the one it has in order to be able to overcome the orography and the distance that separates it from the repeater to which it is connected. This, as we can imagine, makes the battery consumption much higher than usual and we can find ourselves without a battery when we need it, even if we have not used it all day. In addition to this fact we must add that they are not usually intended for use in these activities, being affected by temperatures, humidity and of course the knocks that can take. Problems that we have to try to minimize as much as possible.

Mobile Satellite Telephony

This type of communication is conceived and designed to provide coverage in a large part of the world thanks to the satellite web on which it is based. This guarantees us good and constant coverage in our activities, as long as they are outdoors, that is, with the sky above our heads.

This communication system is quite well established in expeditions and in many professions, not only because of its operability, but also because of the robustness and resistance of these devices, but it is not so widely used by hikers and regular mountaineers.

How to communicate an emergency when hiking or mountaineering, satellite phone

The cost of the service and the price of the terminals is the main stumbling block of this method to communicate an emergency when hiking or mountain biking. It is true that some of the monthly fees that we can find are a little cheaper due to their coverage characteristics and that added to the price that the terminals have, it is as a whole similar to the costs that many of us assume for our usual mobile without us stopping to think about it. This is a device that will not be used regularly and that does not have the technological and aesthetic charms of our Smartphone.

Today some accessories have been developed that "convert" our mobile phone into a satellite phone but still have the cost of the accessory and the service as the main brake.

Other satellite communication systems

 How to communicate an emergency when hiking or mountaineering, satellite communicators

Although we could include them within satellite telephony these communicators that we are going to see now are not designed to make voice calls, although they use the same satellite network as telephones, therefore we will have almost global coverage, they are only for sending SMS and text emails. The prices of the devices and the rates that we will have to assume are more economic, its design is designed for mountain activities and hiking and allow, with a single click, send a message of help with our GPS position to both the emergency center and the recipients we have preset. Even some of them can send this warning automatically if they detect that we have been standing in the same place for a long time.

We have different devices, some compatible with our Smartphone and configurable from it through the corresponding APP, others that connect to our GPS and we can even find GPS with this integrated system.

In short, a good and interesting option to take into account.

The radio

It is not out of place to have a couple of devices that allow us to communicate an emergency when we are hiking or mountain walking, that is to say, to accompany our usual mobile phone with one of the previous devices. But if this is not possible we can count on the options provided by radio waves.

We can divide this communication system in two, the radio for licensed use and the radio for unlicensed use.

The licensed radio

How to communicate an emergency when hiking or mountaineering

Without a doubt the one that will give us the greatest range in our communications of the two options we are going to see, given the radio frequency range in which these devices work. We are not going to mess with technical data, with the characteristics of the bands in which we work or with the alterations that radio waves can suffer for different causes, nor will we go into the jargon or terminology that we should use to communicate through these systems. Just to clarify that for its use we need to be in possession of the corresponding amateur radio license, which is obtained after passing the appropriate exam and paying the relevant fee. In the market we will find several devices that are perfectly adapted to the use in full nature and that will allow us to communicate with other radio amateurs to tens and even hundreds of kilometers.

The unlicensed radio

Of the possibilities that this system offers, for the practice of trekking and the mountain the one that best adapts for its characteristics is the Personal Mobile Radio, the typical walki talkies. The frequency range in which it works is the UHF so the range it gives us is between 5 and 10 km approximately, although as we can imagine the atmospheric and orographic conditions influence these figures both for and against. There are several devices that we can find in the market and that due to their design and characteristics are a good alternative, but to their limited range we must add the still scarce use that this type of device has among hikers and mountaineers. Luckily, relatively recently an initiative supported by the safety committee of the Spanish Mountain Federation emerged, known as the 7.7 or Mountain Radio Channel. Its purpose is to encourage the use of these devices in activities in the middle of nature by keeping it in listening mode on channel 7 subtone 7 in order to be able to both broadcast and receive distress messages by acting as a repeater among other users and the emergency services.

Different systems to communicate an emergency when hiking or mountaineering that we can combine to take advantage of their undeniable virtues and minimize their corresponding shortcomings.

Cómo comunicar una emergencia cuando hacemos senderismo o montaña radio de uso libre

Remember don't go out without them, you might need them.


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