Experts Say TikTok's Voicemail Hack For Lost Hikers Is Actually Dangerous

TikTok has a lot of advice about pretty much everything, and most of it is great. The advice is so far-reaching that travelers and hikers can pick up a lot of tips and hacks from the social media site to make adventures easier. For example, TikTok offers loads of hacks for packing, so that you don't get dinged with excess baggage fees on your flights. Once you arrive at your destination, the social media site has other hacks to achieve the best hike possible, such as tips to stay hydrated. There are a lot of great ideas out there that other TikTokers are keen on sharing.

However, the advice can sometimes be bad. It's likely not a case of someone trying to lead others astray, but rather something that seems like a helpful hack that turns out to instead be counterintuitive or even dangerous. It turns out that this is the case with the popular TikTok hack where hikers change their voicemail greeting with their hike information if something goes wrong. They give the time and date they set out on their hike, an approximate idea of where they are, and where they started their hike. That way, search and rescue can get the information, even if the hiker's phone dies. It seems like a decent idea on the surface, but several rescue teams have explained why this isn't the best idea. In fact, it can be dangerous for several reasons.

Don't waste precious phone power on changing your voicemail

There's no denying that things can go wrong on a hike, which is why it's not uncommon for hikers to share tips on how to stay safe if a trek out into nature turns into a worst-case scenario. This is why the voicemail hack spread quickly on TikTok, with the suggestion that people change their outgoing voicemail if things go wrong mid-hike. However, many expedition experts have warned hikers away from this strategy, noting that it could be ineffective or even dangerous.

Explorer Jerry Kobalenko, editor of ExplorersWeb, told GearJunkie why this was a bad idea: "One of the keys to staying safe outdoors is going over what you will do in worst-case scenarios ahead of time," Kobalenko began. "It's called constructive pessimism. And if you are relying on a bad idea, your emergency will become worse when you discover to your horror that you don't have cell coverage or by the time that someone thinks to phone you, your situation has deteriorated."

A big issue with the voicemail hack is that you might not have cell service to change your outgoing voicemail. Plus, it would be better to use any reception you might have to be proactive about your crisis, and text 911 and family. Even if service is spotty, your phone will still have better luck sending a text than changing a voicemail message.

The TikTok voicemail hack might give out too much information

There's another variation to the voicemail hack that caused other forms of concern. TikToker @megansheley suggested in a video that hikers create an outgoing message before they set out. While this arrangement takes care of the issue of trying to change your outgoing voicemail in an area of poor reception, people had other concerns about it. For one, anyone who calls you can instantly know your whereabouts. "Also doubles as a way to lure creeps to your remote location with no witnesses!" someone wrote in the comments. "As long as you have no crazy exes in your life!" another wrote. Many also noted that the voicemail would spark unnecessary anxiety for those who called the newly-changed voicemail. 

The last-resort idea of changing your outgoing voicemail in a crisis can lead to poorer planning ahead of time. If hikers set out into the wilderness with a contingency plan of changing their voicemail should something bad happen, they might be less proactive about planning other precautions along the way. A better course of action is to tell one or two people privately, and have a survival kit and an off-grid messaging device. Know how to use a map and compass. Those survival tips will keep you much safer than a last-minute voicemail hack.