First and foremost, ALWAYS let someone know where you are going and what time you expect to be back. Let them know you will contact them by a certain time and if they do not hear from you with in a few hours of that time (we use a time window of 4 hours with our family or the park ranger), to send a search party for you. Make sure they understand the importance of hearing from you.
One single important piece of advice I can give is that if you are following a trail, do not leave it. If you feel you have to leave the established trail, leave some sort of marker for others to find you. Tell them, in your marker if possible, where you are going, and when you left the trail.
Pay close attention to landmarks in your area and on your map. Trust your map and your compass. Make sure, before you hike, that you have the most current and best map of the area that you can buy. When you wake up in the morning, make a mental note of where the sun rises. Make note of the time before you start walking. If you begin your hike going west and walk for one hour and find yourself lost, then you know your camp is back towards the east about an hour and you can retrace your steps. However, if you make turns then mark your turns and the direction you went.
Leave markers wherever you go. People have many different ways of doing this. One of our favorites is to cut red or orange bandanas into strips and tie them around low hanging branches where they are easily visible.
Remember the word S.T.O.P., it is a good acronym for what to do while outdoors.
S = Stay calm. One of the most important things to remember when you realize you’re lost is to stop and STAY CALM. Panic is the worst state to be in, because you will not think rationally. If you walk/run around in a state of panic you can lose your sense of direction and most likely will forget to watch your surroundings. Take Slow deep breaths through your nose and try to remember how you got to where you are so you can retrace your steps. If you absolutely with 100% certainty feel you can not retrace your steps to get back to camp, then stay where you are and stop walking. Sit down, drink some water and think things over, but stay calm and keep a positive attitude.
T = Think. Now that you have stopped, you can think about how you got to where you are and how to get back. Walking around as you think is not good because you can confuse yourself even further, and waste energy.
O = Observe. Get your map out and start looking for landmarks. Finding landmark and use your compass to reaffirm your location to help you come up with a plan.
P = Plan. Prioritize the needs of your group. Eat and rest if you need to. After looking at your map and your compass, if you are confident you know the way to go and have time reach your goal before the sun goes down, then go ahead. Mark your trail with strips of cloth, sticks or piles of rocks so you can find your way back to the spot you left from. Whatever you do, don’t use breadcrumbs, the birds will eat them. Hansel and Gretel learned the hard way.
If you are not very confident that your plan is correct, then stay put until someone finds you. If you decide to stay put there are a few things you should remember to do to survive until you are found.
- Try not to get bored. Make mental tasks of things you need to do. (Or a list if you have a note pad and pen) Things like finding water, setting up signals to be found, collecting wood for fire. Finding insulation for shelter and bedding. Try to keep all of your gear with you, when hiking. However, if you plan on having a base camp and want to do day hikes, always bring the necessary equipment to keep you warm (heavy coat, tarp, etc…), survival tools, and food and water.
- Turn fear into motivation to get back home. Remember you family and friends and use any fear you might have to help you focus upon getting back to those you love. Keep your fear in check. The moment it controls you, your decision-making will suffer. Being alone and lost can be scary, especially if you watch scary movies, but rest assured that you can conquer fear, focus, and get back to civilization safely.
- Hydration. A person can last 3 minutes with out air, 3 days without water, and 3 weeks without food. One of your first priorities is to find water and make it safe to drink. The leading cause of death for lost hikers or campers, is dehydration.
- Surviving the elements is another important factor. Not being prepared for the weather can lead to death as well. Educate yourself on what to wear and how to stay safe in the heat and the cold. Hypothermia and heat exhaustion can come quickly if you do not know the signs. Know how to dress properly for the area you are in. Here is a very in-depth article on winter gear and one on layering your clothing.
Studying and remembering these things will greatly increase your chance of survival should you lose your way. Always research and practice the things you learn to remember them well. Learning how to use a compass, what plants are edible, and how to use snares are all valuable things you can learn to increase your chances of survival. The old boy scout motto is great advice: “Be Prepared.”
Keepin It Spicy,
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