You are walking down a trail. The woods are quite stunning. They rise and fall like the waves on the ocean, but they look a bit different. Uh oh! It looks like you are in an unfamiliar area! You are lost in the woods. Every year in the United States, 2,000 or so people get lost outdoors. Many of them return to civilization, but a fair amount do not.
If you are going to be one of those who makes it home, then it is important to know this guide, so you can make it to your friends and family safely.
The Top 5 Tips When You are Lost
If you are looking to get a basic overview of everything you need to know, then these 5 tips will be sure to help you. I skim articles too so I understand, but the rest of the article will go into more depth.
- Let someone know your plans. It is fun to go hiking on a whim’s notice. Sometimes I do that too. Just let someone know you are going on a hike and where you will be going. It will take less than five minutes. It is the number one thing you should do to stay safe. When you tell your plans to someone you care about, then you know they will do the right thing if you are not back in time.
- Wear proper clothing and bring supplies with you. In a previous article, I wrote about Hiking Basics and the gear you will need to carry with you. In general, you want water, a rain jacket, backpack, multi tool, hat, whistle, compass, flash light, topographical map, and proper footwear. That article will explain everything in greater detail.
- Stop, sit, and think. It can be quite frightening to find out you are lost, so there is a tendency to rush off in one direction or another. Sit down and slow down. You do not want to get yourself deeper into trouble. Take a bit of time to calm down and make a plan of action. What would Bear Grylls do to get out of this situation?
- Make observations of the area. Listen for sounds. Is that the noise of a car engine? Look for worn paths. Maybe someone took that way before. That tree you see looks familiar. If you see something familiar, then you can help yourself get back home. Even when you are starting on your hike, it helps to take note of major landmarks.
- Learn how to navigate. If you want to save yourself, then it helps to be able to navigate terrain. This can be as rudimentary as a map and compass or something more complex like a portable GPS.
Important Skills You Should Know
When hiking by yourself or with others, the best person to save yourself is you. As such, if you know these skills listed below, then you are a lot more likely to be found.
Navigation Tools, a Way out of the Forest
Many people get lost because they do not trust their compass. It is a time tested tool. You can rely on it though. In combination with a proper topographical map, you can create and follow a path to lead you out of the forest. If you want to learn how to use a pair, then check out some classes at your local REI or search up a YouTube video.
If you do not want to deal with a map and compass, get a GPS and bring extra batteries. Extra batteries will save you if you leave it on and the battery drains out. Set a way point where you started. If you get lost, then a GPS will take you back home in no time flat.
Know how Search and Rescue Works
If you do get lost, it is essential to understand the thinking behind professional rescuers. Firstly, there is only so far a person can travel in a given day. They will not transverse 30 miles if they do not think you can do it. The sooner you are reported lost, the smaller the search area. The later you are reported lost, then the larger the search area.
Secondly, there is no time threshold for calling in a search and rescue team. If you are late home, then you are seen as an overdue hiker. It happens all the time. Law enforcement likes to give about 24 hours of missing time before sending in search and rescue, so time is of the essence.
Thirdly, every search and rescue is situational. They plan out their operation based on what they know. When you are aware of your own situation, you can plan out your actions to increase the liklihood of you being found.
Learn how to Make a Quick Campfire
If you get caught overnight, the temperature can drop like a rock. A campfire will help you keep your core warm. Consequently, be sure to bring waterproof matches or, at the very least, a lighter with you. There will be plenty of materials to burn as needed when out there. Remember that dry wood burns best.
Learn how to Create or Find Shelter
Personally, I always carry an emergency tent when I go hiking. It sets up in less than a few minutes and is inexpensive. If you find yourself without one though, then you will need to either find or make shelter. Your best bet will be to make some shelter. You do not want to wander too far.
Accidents to Worry About
When lost in the woods, there are three big accidents to worry about. If you are stuck overnight, then you have to worry about staying warm. When it comes to water, you have to find some, disinfect it, and conserve all you can. If you are not careful, you can break a leg. Avoiding all these fates could mean the difference between coming home or not at all.
If you fall into the water, stay out in the cold for too long, or sleep on the cold ground, then your core temperature can drop like a rock. To stay warm, keep your torso warm as much as possible and cover the top of your head. Both those parts of your body are the key places to keep you warm. Your head is a major point of heat escape.
If you have extra room in your backpack, then it will help to have some emergency hand warmers. They may seem like a frivolous purchase, but you will be sure to thank your future self. When your hands are cold, warm fingers feel like quite the luxury.
Your body can only go three days without water. If there is one thing that is key to your survival, it is water. Without it, you will shut down. In response to this issue, be sure to bring plenty of water and a means for disinfecting water like a filtration system, iodine tablets, or a boiler. If you forget a disinfectant, then you can use your clothes as a filter. It does not work as well as one of those listed above, but your t-shirt will work best when you have nothing else.
Injuries are quite commonplace when out in the wild. When I run on trails, I have to watch where I place my next step or else I could sprain my ankle. The same could happen to you too, so be sure to take care when you hike. It could be the start of how you get lost. You also put yourself at increased risk of dehydration of hypothermia when it happens.
When you are lost, you become unlost as soon as people find you. For them, it’s a game of “Where’s Waldo?” The good news, though, is that you can boost the game in your favor by being loud and knowing hand gestures.
Bring the Noise!
People are only going to find you if they can hear you, so make plenty of noise. When hiking, be sure to bring a whistle; 3 whistle blows is the universal noise for a call to help. If you forgot a whistle, then use your voice. Scream, shout, and do all you can to get the attention of others.
Know the Double Wave Arm Gesture
I read a story about a man who got lost in Alaska and was seen by a plane. He ended up dying out there because he only used the one hand wave on the plane, indicating that he was alright. If you see someone, do a double arm wave above your head. It lets people know you need help.
The woods can be quite the scary place if you are lost in them. It feels like everything is closing in around you and your world is spinning. Now though, you are prepared. When it feels like you are in the wrong place, you know what to do so you can get back on the trail and be homeward-bound.
If you have any thoughts, questions, or think I missed anything, do not hesitate to comment below and please do share this article. Thank you so much and I hope you make it a great day!