The best way to have a hiking excursion is both fun and safe, is to be prepared for possible emergencies. I suggest equipment and other preparedness items to have on hand to deal with potential emergencies, See: Long-hike Equipment Checklist.
Also see a range of scenarios that may occur on a hike, including how to prepare for them and some ideas on how to handle them if they occur. Examples are:
- Getting Lost
- Medical and Injury (see How to Get Rescued on a Hike )
- Wild Animal Encounter (Bears and Mountain Lions)
- Altitude Sickness
Mentality to Overcoming Possible Adverse Occurrences
If something goes wrong, the approach should be like handling any seemingly overwhelming challenge.
What equipment itemsdo you have in the backpacks in your group? Do you have additional layers of clothing to withstand unexpected weather, or extra food for an extended outing due to being lost, or items that can be used for temporary first aid? Just realizing what assets you have at your disposal can be calming.
Get to Calm
It is extremely important to be conscious of how agitated or panicked you or others are and to take immediate steps to calm down for clearer thinking and decision-making. Regulate breathing and reduce physical stress; this will reduce energy expenditure and help avoid exhaustion. Keep thoughts focused on the present and very near future –the current predicament is the total priority, and any thoughts of who might be angry because you might return later than a scheduled event should be put aside.
I have found that adopting a fatalistic attitude helps a lot. Whatever happened that caused the current adverse situation is a reality; spending precious thoughts ruing how you got into the mess does not help improve the situation. You cannot reverse the clock to create a different present. What you can do is to get to clear thinking and execution by doing your best to solve the problem and then pursue the solution relentlessly.
Make your next priority to get to safety and stabilize. This could be retracing to get back on the trail, retracing to get back to a water feature you passed, getting back to a place that is safer in a thunderstorm, or even back to where you passed other hikers or campers who may be able to give added assistance. Play defense: decide where safety is and set a plan to get there.
Break the Big Problem into Smaller Ones
This applies to all things that are overwhelming at first. Once you have determined incremental milestones to solve the whole problem, then prioritize which piece of the whole problem to go after first.
As mentioned above, if one of the smaller pieces of the total problem is to get to safety, make that the first smaller step to accomplish.
If you are not alone, you can divvy up the pieces of the solution among your group, but do not physically separate with others to the point where you might not find your way back together. Never leave your partner, even if the problem is that he or she is too tired to continue and encourages you to go on and meet up upon return. Too many things can go wrong with that tactic and it is not worth the risk. I have heard of too many stories of hikers getting separated and not finding each other with bad consequences.