What to Do When Lost in the Wilderness

What to Do When Lost in the WildernessYou've decided to venture off the trail and explore the woods a bit deeper. As you walk, you swear you've seen that same clump of bushes twice before. On the third pass your heart begins pumping because you realize you're walking in circles and you're lost. It will be normal for you to panic at this moment and for rational thinking to quickly exit your body. Hopefully before you ventured on your hike, you had the good sense to bring some typical hiking gear with you and told someone where you were going. Read on for some tips on what to do if you get lost in the wilderness.


Difficulty: Moderate

Tips on What to Do if Lost in the Wilderness

Things You’ll Need:
  • Backpack
  • Matches
  • Poncho or extra clothing
  • Compass
  • Shelter
Step 1
Stop where you are. Now is the time to gather your thoughts and calm down. Panicking will only get you more lost and possibly hurt or killed. If there ever was a time for rational, calm thinking, it's right now. Relax and study the environment around you. Don't try to continue on a path that might only get you deeper in the woods. It's easier for someone to locate you if you stay in one place.
Step 2
Assess what gear you brought with you. Hopefully you were a smart hiker and brought water, food, matches and a compass. Cell phones are great, but they don't always get reception through the tall trees of a forest. It might be a smart idea to leave your phone turned on, in the event it's able to be traced.
Step 3
Tie your shirt, or some other article of clothing or material you have, on a tree. Circle around the tree and see if you can spot the trail, or some other exit out of your present spot. Don't lose sight of your tree, or you could become further lost. If you don't see anything familiar, return to your starting point and wait.
Step 4
Find leaves, branches, a cave or anything else that's available to make a shelter. It gets cold in the woods at night and the last thing you want to get is hypothermia. If you've packed an extra shirt or poncho in your backpack, these items will be lifesavers at night.
Step 5
Make a fire to keep warm and possibly alert someone to your whereabouts. By placing green leaves on your fire, you'll create smoke, which will help you signal your location. Try to build your fire safely so you don't cause a forest fire. If you're lost by a river or lake, draw a signal in the sand that rescuers will be able to see from the air and locate you.
Step 6
Stop and listen to the sounds of the forest and smell the air. You might be lucky enough to smell someone's campfire or hear someone else in the forest who is close by. At night, look and see if you can see lights in the distance from someone's home or camp.

Tips & Warnings

Moss grows on the north side of trees.
Spiders usually make their webs on the south side of trees.
Look for the North Star at night.
Tell someone where you'll be hiking and when you'll be back.
Bring a GPS, if you have one.
Bring a trail map with you.
Unless you know about the native plants, don't eat any berries because they can be poisonous.
Don't drink water from a stagnant pond.

Article Written By Joyce Starr

Joyce Starr is a professional writer from Florida and owns a landscaping company and garden center. She has published articles about camping in Florida, lawn care and gardening and writes for a local gardening newsletter. She shares her love and knowledge of the outdoors and nature through her writing.

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