Monday, March 29, 2010

The Importance of Shoes to Park Rangers

We all take the shoes we wear for granted.

One of the early questions that park rangers ask reporting parties about persons that are lost in the woods is, “What type of shoes are they wearing?” Most family members and friends have absolutely no idea. Why would such a simple question be so important?

The type of footwear can be an indicator of how prepared the lost person is for the terrain in which they are lost. A person wearing hiking boots on steep rocky ground is going to be able to cover more distance than a person wearing flip flops. A person in sturdy walking shoes is less likely to be injured by a fall or twisted ankle.

National Park and public trails can be used by many people over a given period of time. Should man trackers used to locate the lost person, shoe size and tread can be crucial to determining whether they have found clues leading to the right person. It is easy to go off on the wrong route if you do not have specific information to verify the foot print left by the person you are seeking. Just having the size, make, and style of shoe will allow investigators to access data files to obtain diagrams of tread designs.

After being worn for even a short period of time, shoe soles develop scratches and marks that make them as distinct as fingerprints. It is helpful to have a print of a lost person’s specific shoes. Before going on a family hike or camping trip have your family members while wearing their hiking shoes step on an unlined piece of paper. This will leave a pretty distinct outline of the tread on their specific shoes. Keep this on file so it can be accessed for emergencies.

Another reason to have information on shoes is in the event of a kidnapping. It is a common technique for kidnappers of children to quickly change the victim’s clothes so they do not match the initial descriptions that the witnesses give. This aids the criminals in leaving the area of the crime. The one article of clothing that is difficult to change is shoes. Be sure to be aware of what shoes your child is wearing and make periodic shoe prints on paper to file with fingerprints.

These simple steps can assist park rangers and other agencies to come to the assistance of lost or kidnapped persons quickly and effectively.


  1. More park rangers need to be trained as trackers. They can use the skills often in their daily work. I hope that NPS is giving its rangers this training. It wasn't happening when I worked for state parks.

    If you don't have plain unlined paper to step on, you can use aluminum foil, which many folks have in their camping supplies anyway. It makes a nice track imprint and you can save it flat under the front seat of your car so it's ready in case it's needed.

  2. Good idea on the aluminum foil for tracks.
    Tracking training and tactical tracking for armed suspects are both being offered to many National Park Rangers. As a supervisor I witnessed the overall increase in field skills exhibited by rangers who had this training. I made it a point to have every ranger on my staff complete the Tactical Tracking Operations School (TTOS) training program. These skills came in handy for lost persons, tracking criminals, and processing crime scenes.