Are you lost in the woods right now, finding this post via a cellphone with a depleting battery and a weak signal? Bummer, dude. This is your personal doomsday. But let’s hope that’s not the case. Let’s hope you’re reading this to prevent getting lost; but if you’re freaking out in the forest right now, maybe this post will help you get found so you can live to prep another day.
I have never been lost, but I admit to being confused for several weeks.– Daniel Boone
The idea for this post came from a recent, local newspaper article about a man that got lost in the woods looking for moose antlers. No one ever walks into the woods planning to get lost. It happens quite unexpectedly. Fortunately, the man in that article was found.
I’ve been “disoriented” a few times. Both times I was hunting unfamiliar territory and staying too close to sunset. I know the feeling. Your heart begins to race, you wonder what family will think when you don’t come home, and the embarrassment you’ll face when game wardens come looking for you. I am fortunate in that I have never had to ponder the prospect that I might never get out – or found. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, however. And I’ve learned my lessons.
Step 1 – Take Precautions
If you’re lost now, hopefully you took general precautions that will presently give you some comfort.
- You told someone where you’re going and when you’ll be back.
- You have a GPS, topographical map, compass, and you know how to use them (Map Reading and Land Navigation).
- You have a small survival kit.
A survival kit doesn’t need to be the size of a bug out bag, but it should include these basic items at a minimum:
- Potable Aqua Water Purification Tablets
- Mylar Survival Emergency Blanket
- Waterproof Match Kit
- Emergency Survival Whistle
- Extra Personal Medication
- Simple Fixed Blade Knife
- Emergency Food (like MREs)
- Quality Headlamp with Spare Batteries
Design your survival kit around the environment you’ll be exploring. What works for late fall in Maine won’t work for mid-summer in Arizona. Hopefully you’ve dressed accordingly.
Didn’t take any precautions before getting lost? Oof! You’re probably freaking out.
Step 2 – Stop
Once you realize you’re lost – STOP! If you keep moving without direction, you run the risk of going deeper into the woods. Don’t take another step unless you know what you’re hoping to achieve.
Step 3 – Don’t Panic
I get it, you’re freaking out, but that’s not going to help. Panic only leads to poor decisions (at best). Sit down and take a deep breath.
Step 4 – Plan
Think about where your last landmark was and where you may have gone wrong. Observe your surroundings. Are there signs of human activity? Can you hear traffic or chainsaws? Recall what the topography looks like from an aerial view and where you might be, based on your surroundings.
Step 5 – Enact a Plan or Stay Put
If you have a reasonable plan, enact it. If you have no plan, or you’ve tried enacting your plan and you’re still lost – stay put!
I once volunteered to help search for a missing child. Search parties cover ground in an organized fashion, searching one area, crossing it off, and moving to the next. If people are looking for you, and you keep moving, it’s very possible you will move to an area already searched and crossed off. It’s not uncommon for search parties to find signs of the person, but not the actual person. Stay put!
Of course, this step assumes someone knows where you went and when you will be back. If you didn’t tell someone, no one is going to come looking for you, which means you need to…
Step 5 – Save Yourself
If there is no help beyond saving yourself, here are some ideas:
- Move downhill whenever possible. People tend to settle in valleys near water. Moving downhill also conserves energy.
- Follow water downstream. Rivers and streams tend to flow into larger bodies of water. They usually lead to civilization of some sort. Worst case, following water downstream will at least keep you from moving in circles.
- Stop and rest whenever you start to feel tired. Take your time. Keep panic at bay. Take the time to fix problems while they are still small. Adjust your shoes as discomfort sets in, before blisters take shape, for example.
- Drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration. If you must drink water in the wild, drink from moving, not stagnant, water.
- Make a smoky fire. Three fires in a row is a distress signal.
If you’re lost and none of this has worked, arrange rocks and sticks into your final message to loved ones. Then sit down and meditate as you transition to the afterlife.
Note: If you are lost and this post does save your life, you can pay me back by shopping Amazon through this site. That gives me a small commission. 🙂