You’ve made all the necessary preparations, planned your hiking route well, and learned how to use a compass and map. But for whatever reason, you find yourself lost in wilderness. What should you do?
Whether you are alone or you have other people with you when you get lost in the middle of nowhere, there is still a chance that you will be found, especially if a friend, a family member or someone at the trailhead or campsite knows your hiking plan. However, not instantly, as some search operations may last for more than a few hours or even days, depending on factors like the size of the forest, how far off the trail you are, and given the weather conditions.
Since you have no way of knowing how long before help comes, there are some important guidelines that you should follow to increase your chances of being rescued alive.
Stop, Think, Observe, Plan (S.T.O.P.)
- Stop walking
When you realize that you are lost, the first thing you have to do is to stop walking and keep yourself and your group calm. If where you are is unsafe, find a safer place and stay there. If you don’t know your exact location, walking further in the woods gives you a greater chance that you are going in the wrong direction. Moreover, if you keep on moving around, the search party would have a harder time finding you. So, just stay put and try to relax while you do the next step.
- Think about your situation
While sitting down, try to remember how you got there. Think about possible landmarks that you may have passed by along the way, and what general direction you were going before realizing you were lost. Also, it is important to think positive. There is no doubt that you will be able to get home safe, one way or another.
- Observe your surroundings
Take a look around you. Are you or anyone in the group hurt? If so, perform basic first aid. After making sure that the injury, if there’s any, is under control, try to figure out where you are. If you have a compass, use that to know the directions from where you are standing. Check your map and try to identify your general location using landmarks that you should be able to see around you. Observe the weather if it’s getting worse or better. Estimate how long it will take before sundown. What do you have with you and how long would your supplies last? What objects are available in the area that could be of use? All of these observations would be necessary in planning your next steps.
- Plan of action
Based on your overall assessment of your situation, conjure up some plans and act on the best one. Remember to prioritize the group’s needs when deciding on what to do. If you are confident of your location and where you should go, the weather is good, everyone in the group is in good condition, and you have enough time before dark, then proceed carefully while marking your trail with rocks, sticks, or strips of cloth. If you are not entirely sure about the route, then just stay where you are, call or signal for help, and try to survive until the search party comes.
If you decide to wait, then the first thing you should do is to build a shelter and fire, as they would protect you from weather elements and wild animals. Try to look for water and food source to make sure that you won’t run out of supplies. Remember to keep yourself dry and warm at all times. And again, keep thinking positive.
Keeping your wits about you and carefully planning your next steps when you get lost in the wild could save your life. Also, it is very important that before starting your hike, you should inform someone, ideally a person in the trailhead, about your hiking plan and your estimated time of return. This would help authorities to have an idea if something went wrong and make it easier for them to find you.