It doesn’t take much for someone to become disoriented and get lost in less-traveled areas. You might find yourself off-course on a day hike in a backwoods forest or even broken down a few miles off a desolate road. A minor case of going astray can quickly turn into a struggle for survival. What you do to prepare for such an occurrence can mean the difference between life and death. Let’s take a look at a few tips on what you can do to avoid getting lost in the wilderness.
Be Prepared to Get Lost
When you fail to plan, you plan to fail. We all have to plan for the worst-case scenario. If you do get lost, your only survival items will probably be on your person at the time. Basic survival tools such as a knife, flashlight, firestarter or matches, compass, map, water, food, blanket, and warm clothes are good things to have handy. Discount outdoor sporting goods stores like Sierra Trading Post have ample supplies for you to keep in your trunk. These items are especially critical in case of adverse weather conditions or a vehicle breakdown. If you’re going deeper into the unknown, more survival gear is recommended.
Plan Ahead: Avoid Getting Lost in the First Place
Here’s a little gem of wisdom that may save you from getting mired in a survival situation. Avoid getting lost in the first place. Amazing piece of advice, isn’t it? That tip may sound obvious, but sometimes it can be challenging to accomplish if you haven’t developed good travel habits, especially when exploring unfamiliar places.
Whether you’re going on a short walk or are forced to abandon your encampment, always inform someone where you are going. Tell them what route and direction you’ll take, and approximately how long you estimate you’ll be gone. If no one is around, leave a note in an easy-to-find location listing this information. Become accustomed to doing this even if you are in familiar territory and only going out for a short time. Accidents can happen anytime, anyplace.
Survey the Territory
Make it a practice to be aware of your surroundings and take mental notes of indicators such as major landmarks before and during your trip. Doing so will help you avoid getting lost in the wilderness more than you realize. Keep your eyes out for hills, mountains, land contours, bodies of water, or even unique trees. Remember where they are in relation to you and your objective, and move accordingly. If you don’t have a map or compass, your powers of observation are that much more critical. Don’t start daydreaming and forget where each feature should be in relation to you and your objective.
Put Maps & GPS Devices to Work
If you have a paper map or GPS device, check your landmark observations against them to understand where you are in relation to your objective and starting locations. On foot, you should do this about every 10 to 15 minutes. Depending on your method of motivation and speed, you might need to compare your observations more often. An average hiker can move at about two-and-a-half to four miles per hour depending on the terrain and load being carried. If you’re using a faster conveyance such as a bicycle or vehicle, you’ll need to make sure you keep tabs on your position more often.
Keeping track of where you are on a map at regular intervals is a good way to avoid getting lost in the wilderness. There are also a wide array of handheld devices that can send text messages to select contacts or call in an SOS. While these items are not cheap, remember they are worth every penny when needed.
Leave Your Mark
Like Hansel and Gretel, it’s a good idea to leave markers along the way so that you can find your way back to where you started. You can break branches along your path or leave signals such as carvings in tree bark. Stacked rocks and bundles of tall grass tied in knots are also options. If you do this regularly, you should be able find your way back easily.
What to Do When You Actually Get Lost
The sinking feeling of realizing you’re lost can be scary, and for some, panic-inducing. It is very important to remain calm and keep your head clear to make rational decisions. Because you’re always prepared, you should have some survival tools on you. Hopefully, you have made a trail of markers to follow back, and let someone know when to expect you back home.
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If it’s safe enough, make your way back to your starting point by following your trail markers. If for some reason it isn’t safe to do that, you should sit tight. In an unsafe situation, you should stay in place and await rescue. After you don’t return as planned, people will eventually come looking for you. The more you move, the more lost you could potentially get while also expending precious energy and risking injury. The information in the message you left should allow search and rescue crews to come find you. In the meantime, it is imperative that you stay warm by building a shelter and a fire. The fire can double as a signal fire to make you easier to spot.
Conquer Fear Before It Conquers You
Don’t let fear or despair get the better of you. If you make a plan and stick to it, that can be a great motivator. If you get too anxious or impatient to find your way back, you might take too many needless risks. Take inventory of what items you have with you, as well as some of their alternative uses. Mentally shift into “survival mode” and adapt to the environment. Make sure to keep up your physical health, mental outlook, and energy levels. Gather essentials such as wood, water, and food, and be patient. The longer you can hold out, the better your chances for survival.
Many of us remember that sinking feeling we felt as children when we wandered away from our parents at the supermarket and looked up to find them missing. The knot in your stomach – the fear, the feeling of being lost, was panic-inducing. Becoming lost as an adult may revive the same emotions that we felt as children, only on a greater level.
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That feeling of fear is necessary to our basic survival instincts. Fear induces extra adrenaline into our system, making us more alert and energized. But disproportionate amounts of fear can also lead to improper and sometimes dangerous decisions.
Understanding proper survival methods and skills, contingency plans and the use of essential tools can empower us to stay focused on survival. Knowing what you can and must do to survive greatly improves your chances of survival.