So You’re Lost In The Wilderness….Now What?

This has happened to us all before, to some degree, on a hike or even a simple walk into the wilderness.

We had allowed ourselves to get distracted, and we somehow lost the trail we were on, or lost our direction on how to get back to the safety of our vehicle.

As a member of search and rescue, I take interest in learning about and discussing lost person behavior. This knowledge had helped our teams locate lost people more quickly.

It also motivates me to learn about the best steps to take, what things would be the best to do when you get caught in this situation.

While the concept of being lost on the trail or being separated from our hiking companions is terrifying, the actions we take over the course of the first few minutes can rapidly increase or decrease our chances of getting out safely.

First, let’s back up to before you got lost in the first place, and was planning on this particular trip.

Did you….

1. Plan out your trip ahead of time, and check on the weather and any hazards on this particular trail and area?

2. Bring your ten essentials?

3. Communicate ahead of time to someone responsible of the trail and the route you were taking, and approximate time of your expected return?

(Please review the link below if you are new to hike planning, or want to learn more about it)

Once you have become lost, here are the steps, as recommended by the Forest Service, that you need to take to make yourself more likely to be found…

Stop


As soon as you realize you may be lost: stop, stay calm, stay put. Panic is your greatest enemy.

Think

Try to retrace in your mind how you got to where you are. What landmarks do you remember, and should be able to easily see? Do not move at all until you have a specific reason to take a step.

Observe

Get out your map and compass, and determine the directions based on where you are standing. Do not walk aimlessly.

If you are on a trail, stay on it. Most trails are marked with signs, where intersections meet and where you may find points of interest. This information could be helpful for somebody to come and find you.

Plan

Based on your clear thinking and observations, think of some possible plans. Think them through, then act on one of them once you are convinced this is the best action to take.

If you are not very, very confident in the route, if it’s nightfall, or if you are injured or you are near exhaustion, stay in place.

Self Rescue

If you are feeling up for a self rescue, here are some guidelines to follow.

  1. Stop and take a breather when your body is telling you to. Don’t expend your energy too early.
  2. Remember to take rest, food, and water breaks, even though your mind maybe racing a mile a minute.
  3. Drink plenty of water, not just on your breaks, but also while you are hiking to find your way back. Dehydration will increase your stress and frustration, while depleting your energy rapidly.
  4. Take the time to deal with small issues while they are still small. If you ignore your body and gear and just keep pushing, the pain, illness, or risk of injury will only get worse and make recovery more difficult.
  5. Avoid hiking, if possible, on highly exposed areas on hot days. If you are on a trail such as this, find a shady spot and stay there until the temperature cools down. Adjust you’re hiking pace to what you can comfortably maintain and rest when you feel necessary.

Hope you find this information useful (or, better yet, never will need it!)

Be safe out there!

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