What To Do If You Are Lost In The Wilderness?

Wandering off trails when hiking is common, and hikers getting lost not unusual.

You do not wish to be one of the hikers who gets lost off-trail. But if ever you do get lost, my best advice is to stay safe and get found.

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What to do if you are lost in the wilderness? When you’re lost, you might want to adopt the STOP approach – stay calm, and stay put. Do not panic as this will serve no benefit. Panic is your biggest enemy.

This article is a full guide on what to do if you get lost in the wilderness.

The STOP Approach

Maybe you got preoccupied with the beauty of nature or followed something, and then you realize you’re lost!

You should pull yourself together. Do not get scared, do not wander more, and do not panic. Panicking won’t help you get found easily.

The first thing you have to do is to stop and think. Think about how you get where you are.

Do you see any landmarks? Instead of wandering off more, you should stay put. Do not take another step without having a specific reason.

The next thing you should do is quietly observe your location. It is where a compass gets handy.

When you’re hiking, there are always possibilities that you won’t have any signal. It will restrict you from using your GPS.

Do not take any meaningless steps. If you are still on a trail, stay on it, and wait for rescuers.

Trails are usually marked with signs and blazers or markers, but these signs are sometimes vandalized or stolen.

The last thing you can do is at least follow the stream downhill or drainage.

Drainage usually leads to highways. But take extra precautions and be safe because this is dangerous.

And lastly, you should create a concrete plan. After your thinking and observations, you can hopefully come up with a plan.

Remember to think closely with your next move before acting on them.

If you don’t feel secure with the plan you have, then follow your instincts and don’t do it.

Pick Your Route

Do not impulsively go on a trail without having a general idea of where a particular trail is headed to.

Check back in your map when hiking and try to use nearby landmarks to know your location.

As much as possible, you should stay focused on the trail when hiking.

Getting lost alone is no party. By keeping track and paying close attention to the trail, you’re reducing your chances of getting lost.

It is not unusual to lose signal when you’re on a hike. Your best friend in this activity is the compass.

It is a must-have tool to bring when you are in the wilderness. It helps you locate your location when you get turned around.

Also, a good map will help you pinpoint your exact location.

The compass and the map are 2 of the 10 essential things that you should always carry with you.

These items should be readily available when you are outdoors.

Follow The Trail

Standing on the trail is an essential factor that will help you avoid getting separated and lost from the group.

If you are not good at backcountry navigation, then never break from the trail.

Assuming you have to go on a bathroom break; still do not go off-trail. Always give 100% of attention to the trail.

It is essential to identify your exact location along with your destination when venturing out into the woods.

Utilizing GPS

A handheld GPS is very useful to help you find your way out of the woods.

GPS allows you to know your exact location. Pre-downloading topo maps and drawing out the path you’re going to take and marking any important waypoints is a must.

You can check your GPS and make sure you are on track once you are on the trail.

For extra precautions, you can carry a device such as a Garmin Inreach.

The Garmin Inreach is also a form of GPS, but it will double as a satellite communicator.

If you do get lost, you can use your Garmin Inreach to text your friends and ask for help.

Retrace your steps and immediately start backtracking if you have wandered off the trail. As much as possible, do not break off the trail or explore the wilderness by yourself.

Marking the areas as you hike will also help you get back on track when you’re lost.

You can leave traces along the way, hang items on trees, or leave heavy footprints.

By doing this, heading back to where you came will be much easier.

Planning To The Rule Of Threes

Many people are aware that to survive the wilderness, you need to have various things.

We are all different from our ways. However, we all have the same basic needs – food, water, and shelter.

The Rule of Threes in survival is an extremely important rule that often gets ignored.

Some people do know, but they are not fully aware of it.

The Rule of Threes refers to the normal length of time a person can be without having something before problems arise.

It states that a person or human can only survive up to 3 weeks of food, 3 days of no water, 3 hours without shelter, and 3 minutes without oxygen.

If you go beyond the length of these three, then you are asking for severe issues.

Shelter And Warmth

Shelter

If you watch videos of surviving wildlife, you will notice how survival experts build an astonishing shelter.

What you have to know is that these people have been doing and practicing these sort of things for years.

They are skilled people that do the work in a short amount of time without difficulties.

I’m not saying that you should build shelters like how they build theirs’. You should build and do what you think is easiest for you.

You can find a big rock formation and sleep underneath it. You can also search for unused caves – no wildlife animal is living inside.

These two are enough to keep you out of the elements.

But remember to stay alert with your surroundings, especially when you are in the wild.

If you can, do not hike anywhere between 10 am and pm on hot days.

But if you do hike on these times and weather, search for a shady spot and stay. Once the temperature cools down, you can continue with your hike.

Warmth

As weather changes and you’re out in the wild, especially during night time, you’ll probably be cold.

It is true if you do not have a fire going. You can insulate to stop this problem.

Most hiking areas have trees and leaves that fall throughout the year. But, if they do not, you can pick them off.

These will be a wonderful insulator. What you need to do is to stuff your jacket with them.

The leaves will absorb the cold before it gets too serious. They will also keep the body heat from escaping.

When it’s cold or wet outside, starting a fire is a big help with survival situations.

It might be unlikely that you have a fire-starting kit with you during hikes, but you can learn how to use a “feather stick”.

Below are the steps on how to make one:

  1. Find a tree and remove as much bark as you can.
  2. Cut down some of the wood from the inner tree.
  3. Peel open the layers of the wood until you get what appears like a feather.

You can also adjust the pace of you hiking to the one you are comfortable maintaining with.

Take a rest whenever you feel the need to. Do not overwork yourself because the woods have no hospitals and doctors on standby.

Drinking-Water

Water is essential to the body. Drink enough water to avoid dehydration.

Dehydration symptoms include thirst, dry mouth, dark yellow urine, dry and cool skin, muscle cramps, and headache.

One of the oddest ways to survive when you are lost in the wilderness is not to carry as much water.

Sure, you have to avoid dehydration, however, carrying too much comes with a price.

You will need water for sure, but water has a weight to it.

The more gallons of water you carry, the more weight you have to lug around. Remember that if you carry more water, you are slowing yourself down and using more energy.

Therefore, you should only carry what makes sense.

Consider the available hydration resources around when you have a handle on your situation.

There are three types of water in the wild; the surface water, such as lakes, rivers, rainwater, and groundwater from springs.

If the water is beautiful and looks sterile, but no living animal is living in it, then there’s something wrong.

All forms of life need water. If the worst kind of algae doesn’t grow in that water, then perhaps it’s not safe. So do not drink from it.

You can search for animal tracks, green ventilation, and swarms of bugs. Animals are the master of surviving wildlife.

They’d know if the water is safe or not. If they drink from it, you probably can, too.

Water Filter

The best way to get clean water is to create your own filtration system.

You have to do this as even boiling water does not entirely eliminate bad stuff in the water. So, it would be better if you filter the water, too.

The process is pretty easy. You need an empty bottle. If you don’t have one, you can make it with things such as birch bark.

The next thing you should do is poke small holes in the bottom. You have to find fine sand, coarse gravel, coarse sand, and crushed up charcoal.

Once you’re done looking for the filters, add them all in the container.

Then add water on top of the layer of fine sand. It should completely filter the water. Although I strongly recommend boiling the water first to increase safety.

Food To Survive

You have to take a break when you feel tired, do not wait until you are exhausted.

Your body will have a difficult time hiking and digesting at the same time. Find shade and rest for at least an hour or two, or until you feel renewed.

The wild, as you know, is full of indulging plants. However, some of these are not safe to consume. You must know what foods to avoid.

  • Do not eat plants with thorns.
  • Stay away from clear or shiny leaves.
  • Do not eat plants with white or yellow berries.
  • Some mushrooms are safe. Some are deadly. If you are not an expert, do not eat any of the kind.
  • Do not get close with plants that have leaves in groups of three.
  • Do not get close to plants that have umbrella-shaped flowers.
  • Refrain from eating beans or plants with seeds inside a pod.
  • Do not eat anything with an almond smell.
  • If it tastes soapy or bitter, immediately spit it out.
  • Any discolored sap is a warning sign.

You can utilize the universal edibility test check to see whether a plant is edible or not.

Steps include; rubbing the plant on your skin and lips, holding it in your mouth to see if any adverse reaction occurs.

In the jungle, fruits are everywhere. But depending on where you are, you can find almost everything from bananas to mangoes to sugarcanes.

In tropical jungles, coconut is the best food source, including papaya, and figs.

Before hiking, it is best to familiarize yourself with the local fruits you can eat.

Commercially farmed green goods contain lesser amounts of nutrients than wild greens.

Plus a wild green’s flavor is more intense than store-bought ones. Wild greens are seasonal – spring and fall in most countries.

You can start off eating the dandelion leaf’s peppery kick and mixing it with chickweed.

The chickweed has a delicate flavor that will create a tasty meal. You can also top it off with lemon-flavored wood sorrel.

However, always take extra caution as several intoxicating wild plants looks almost the same as the edible ones.

The best thing to do is never to touch any plant in which you are unsure of its identity.

Rescuing Yourself Or Attracting Rescuers

  1. Before going somewhere, it is vital that you tell someone where you’re going and your activities. Inform someone of the expected return time and date of your trip.

    Especially when you’re going hiking, give a reliable person your trail route, destination, and other essential details. If it’s not too much, also tell them your tent color, the jacket you’re wearing, and list supplies.

  2. There is an increase in cell coverage in the wilderness. Emergency cell phones are one of the ways in initiating rescues. If not needed, turn off your cell phones to conserve batteries. 

  3. Before starting the trail, enable your location setting. It enables E911 to calculate your exact location.

  4. Turn on your phones only when necessary. If you are lost, turn your phone at least every 10 minutes, or when you’re resting.

    Cell signals may not be enough to make a call. It would be enough to leave an electronic trail. Radios and electronic communicating devices work off a line of sight.

    It means that land features, such as mountains and heavy tree covers, can block signals. If you have a satellite phone, remember that it needs an obstructed view of the sky.

  5. Convey only what is essential. Also, dial emergency personnel first before ringing your emergency contact.

    It is extremely important to stay calm. Panicking will only make things worse. Name, location details (Lat/Long or even UTM coordinates, elevation, and landmarks).

    If you don’t know your exact location details, you can give them your last known points.

  6. If you do not have enough cell signal to make a call, you can leave a text. However, most emergency hotlines are not set up to receive cell text messages.

    It is also a good idea to describe materials that can be used to locate and identify you. You can tell them the clothes you’re wearing, the tent you’re sleeping in, and other materials.

  7. A flare gun is one of the best ways to signal for help. However, some people use fire as signals for rescue. But two problems can arise if you use a fire signal. First, it can cause forest fires.

    It can also affect the time window of getting the fire to produce sufficient smoke to attract attention. Second, people who will see the smoke may not interpret this as a cry for help. Often they would perceive this as a natural fire.

  8. Noise can also be used to signal for help. You can use your whistling tool loud enough to be heard for several miles. The universal distress signal is 3 consecutive blows. That would be about 4 to 5-second blows.

If you do not have any whistle, 3 shots or 3 bangs with a stick on a tree may do the trick.

If you can shout loud enough, shouting “Help!” would be better. If it’s sunny, you can use anything that can reflect the sun to signal rescue.

Conclusion

The best thing to do before hiking is to prepare basic tool kits, just in case you get lost.

If you do get lost, you should be calm and collected. Stop, think, plan, and act. These are the 4 ways you should do when you are lost in the wilderness.