Save Your Life in Three Words

It’s been a long time since I’ve been in wilderness on my own. In the Amazing Maasai Marathon in Kenya, I did find myself alone — no one in sight in the middle of Africa — but that was simply a matter of following the painted rocks. But I’ve recently learned of a phone app that everyone who hikes or explores unsupervised should investigate. It could literally save your life.

The app is “what3words.” According to the company’s website (, “what3words is a really simple way to talk about location. We have assigned each 3m square in the world a unique 3 word address that will never change…. 3 word addresses are easy to say and share, and are as accurate as GPS coordinates…. Our vision is to become a global standard for communicating location. People use what3words to find their tents at festivals, navigate to B&Bs, and to direct emergency services to the right place.”

This sounds like a simple concept, but it works very well, as explained in the BBC news article “What3words: The app that can save your life” by Duncan Leatherdale (

However, a Google search will turn up critics, who point out that this is a for-profit company with a proprietary algorithm that is trying to establish an open standard. English words are not universal, not all three-word labels are culturally appropriate, and only two variables — latitude and longitude — are needed to establish your position anywhere on Earth (

But if you love the great outdoors and there is the chance that someday you might need help, this is an option worth considering.

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