Whatsapp Is The Best Thing That Happened To Trekking

Caffeinated Thoughts
6 min readApr 15, 2024

A unique set of features on the popular messaging app makes it an indispensable tool for trekkers and wilderness explorers.

Photo by Dimitri Karastelev on Unsplash

Since its debut in 2009 and widespread adoption all over the Indian subcontinent over the next decade, Whatsapp grew by leaps and bounds, affecting different strata of society in a multitude of ways.

From enabling law enforcement to attend to citizen complaints swiftly, traffic police to receive accurate locations of vehicle breakdowns, flooded roads, accidents, ambulances and VIP movement, to facilitating quick dissemination of news by the media and providing businesses a direct tool to interface with their customers, the popular messaging app has cemented itself as quite an indispensable tool for modern day life.

Suffice it to say that in 2024 Whatsapp is now a household name in India with even older generations getting onto the platform and using it to stave off the loneliness. Video calls to their loved ones, sharing of media, keeping up to date with family news, and receiving timely assistance from their doctors and care providers has immensely benefitted a lot of senior citizens in the country.

But there’s one particular space that the much loved multimedia messaging app has made quite a significant impact, way more than it has in the others. Its in the field of trekking, wilderness exploration, and adventure sport.

As an adventurer or wilderness explorer, you might recall that getting to new locations was always a hassle in the pre-whatsapp days. During those days, exploration meant plenty of missed turns, incorrect directions given by people on the road, dealing with conflicting information, as well as sometimes mistakenly getting onto someone’s private estate in the hills leading to altercations with owners of such properties.

Well, thanks to Whatsapp and its amazing multimedia sharing capabilities, such incidents are now a thing of the past.

From Live and current location sharing, to sharing of gpx files, photos of significant landmarks, videos of accidents and mishaps, and contact details of local guides along with exact locations of forest offices and local resources for explorers, to group/broadcast messaging which can serve as an early warning system for natural/manmade disasters, Whatsapp has come a long way from the basic messaging app it once used to be.

Here’s why Whatsapp is such a big boon to the trekkers and explorers of today:

Location sharing and live location tracking

Location sharing and live location tracking are perhaps the two most useful features for trekkers and explorers on Whatsapp.

They’ve been of immense use to me in the numerous treks that I’ve conducted and participated in in South India. The ability to send out approximate or precise locations of lost, stranded, or injured trekkers to medical/rescue personnel so that they can immediately initiate rescue missions is undoubtedly one of the best features of Whatsapp and one that could be instrumental in saving precious lives within the critical golden hour.

Along with medical emergencies, the location sharing feature can also be used to:

  • Share the location of a forest department office where trekking permits need to be obtained.
  • Share your crew’s location with a guide who is to join you for the trek so that he/she can join you on time.
  • Obtain the location for the start point of a trek from a guide or a forest ranger in a forest region you’ve never been to before. This is a useful feature for exploratory treks.
  • Share the exact location of a homestay or guides house located in a remote region of the forest.
  • Obtain locations for local emergency services such as police stations, hospitals, fire stations, forest department offices, and anti-poaching camps from the locals. Google maps cannot be relied upon in rural areas where such services where location info is usually inaccurate.
  • You can rest assured that the rest of your group members are on the way to join you at the start point of a trek and their ETA, instead of anxiously prancing around not knowing when they’re going to arrive in the days of yore. Now, you can happily take off your heavy trekking bags and sit down to some chai and pakoras as you patiently watch their blip move on the screen.

Multimedia sharing

Another essential feature for trekkers on Whatsapp is the multimedia sharing feature. You can now make video calls to your loved ones back in the city — mobile signal strength permitting — broadcasting to them the natural wonders of the planet whether that be the jawdropping views from a mountaintop, a view of a cascading waterfall, a scintillating rock formation, or a natural pool inside the forest allowing them to get a glimpse of the natural world and an idea about what exactly you do when you tell them “I’m off on a trek this weekend”.

But besides the recreational or fun uses, the multimedia feature comes in handly especially during exigencies and emergencies whilst in the outdoors.

Sending a map of the trail you’ll be following on your trek whether in the form of an image, GPX file, or anything else to the ER (Emergency Rescue) team, to your fellow trekkers, someone back home, or to forest department officials is a priceless feature to have. Emergency rescue personnel will at least have an approximate idea of which area to look for you in case you go missing instead of having to comb through an entire region wasting huge amounts of time, energy, and manpower in the process.

Every second counts in a survival situation, and its these precious seconds which could literally make the difference between life and death.

Besides these, multimedia sharing also comes in handy for a variety of other reasons:

  • A bunch of trekkers can exit the forest earlier than the rest of the group if they have an emergency to attend to in the city and already have the trail on their phones from the Whatsapp group chat with important waypoints plotted on it.
  • Receiving audio or video instructions from medical professionals on how to provide first aid to an injured trekker after sending them a photo or video of the case.
  • Finding lost/missing items: The owners of lost articles can be immediately notified about it via the group chat instead of having to call each and every participant separately. Many times, participants unintentionally leave behind their belongings behind whether at homestays, on vehicles, and sometimes even back at a campsite. The owner of the homestay, driver, or fellow trekker who spotted the item can instantly message the group with an image of it and find the owner immediately.
  • Immediately sending out SOS signals to forest officials and emergency services in case a bunch of trekkers are trapped/stranded at a particular location and receiving detailed instructions on how to get out of it. This feature is, of course, only useful if one is in a region of the forest that has significant cell phone reception. Still, one could always run back to start point of a trek while the rest of the crew stays back near the stranded trekker(s) and send out the SOS the moment they receive a signal.
  • Receiving real time updates on incidents which might have taken place close to where your group is camping such as an animal attack, forest fire, landslide, or flash flood from other trekkers, the forest department, or local guides in the region.
  • On exiting the forest, you can check your trekking group or city groups for news of highway traffic jams or other kinds of road closures. Based on this information, you can then decide which route to take to get back to the city saving precious time, money, and energy in the process.
  • Documenting evidence of illegal or anti-social activities you might uncover whilst inside the forest and instantly sharing them with forest officials so that violators can be speedily arrested and brought to book. This could be smuggling, poaching, a group altercation thats broken out, a gang indulging in illegal activities, drunken behaviour, or someone stealing artefacts from the forest.
  • Sharing pictures of flora and fauna you spotted in the jungle with wildlife experts back in the city for immediate identification. This could be that of plants/trees, birds or animals, their pug marks, scat, tree markings, or recordings of animal calls. For all you know, you could have discovered a new species never seen before.

As one can clearly make out, a distinct set of features awaits outdoor enthusiasts who are willing to install Whatsapp on their phones and use them while trekking. While most of these features are subject to the availability of cell phone reception, whether inside a forest or while travelling through a thickly forested region, they are nonetheless of immense use to all stakeholders in the trekking community.

As a trekker and wilderness explorer, have any of these features benefitted you in the past? May be some more than the other? May be there’s a story behind that?

Do let me know in the comments bar to the side.

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Caffeinated Thoughts

No niche in particular. I am a keen observer of society and gain my inspiration for new articles from observation.