Lost In Wilderness: What To Do If You Are Lost Hiking

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Nothing terrifies a hiker more than getting lost in wilderness. The combination of confusion, loneliness, and fear can be just too much to deal with, making an already ugly situation worse.

However, the real question, really, is not what to do when you find yourself in such a situation, but how to avoid getting into it in the first place.

In this post, therefore, we are going to discuss a few things you can do if you are lost hiking and how you can prepare for this eventuality. Let’s go!

Pre-Hike

Adequate preparation is one of the most effective ways to avoid getting lost when on a hiking or backpacking trip. Here is what to do:

1. Know Where You Are Going

Familiarize yourself with the trail on which you will be hiking. Check the map and if possible, talk to a few hikers who have been there before.

Find out if there are any stream crossings, how many trails there are and where they intersect, as well as the type of terrain to expect. Having this information beforehand will reduce the chances of confusion and even give you more confidence to face the trail.

2. Tell Someone

No matter where you are going, make sure a friend or family member knows your itinerary and when they should expect you back. That way, in the event you don’t show up on the said date, they will contact the authorities. If you are like most hikers, you could also leave a note inside your car at the trailhead to help the rescue team.

3. Pack The Right Gear

Having the right equipment is one of the most important things to do if you hope to conquer the wilderness. In fact, move this baby to number one! At the bare minimum, you will need the following in your hiking backpack:

  • Snacks and water: Always bring more than you need. Some hikers carry their water bottles empty and fill them up at the designated refill stations to avoid carrying extra weight. Don’t make this mistake especially if you are hiking in an area you haven’t been before; you may just find the taps dry.
  • Navigation equipment: Pack your hiking GPS, a map of the area you plan to visit, and a compass. Importantly, be sure you know how to operate them.
  • Proper clothes: Know what to wear hiking. Good hiking boots, hiking pants/shorts, hiking shirt, and a hat will be a great start. If it’s too cold, consider throwing in a jacket. Make sure to do your layering right so you can withstand any extreme weather.
  • Survival items: Carry a flashlight, headlamp, pocketknife, lighter, first aid kit, whistle and any other item that could aid in your survival if you get lost in wilderness. A lightweight emergency blanket could also come in handy in a desperate situation.

4. Check The Weather

Changing atmospheric conditions could turn a fun-filled hike trip disastrous. Rivers may swell from rain and make crossing more difficult. Lightning may strike and your attempt to find a safe place sends you straying from the trail. Or snowfalls may obscure trails and make finding your way harder.

Listen to the weatherman to know what awaits you on the other side. That way, you will identify the safest trails to use and which ones to avoid. It will also help you dress appropriately.

5. Leave Early

Unless you are planning to spend the night in the woods, don’t leave too late. Check to see when the sun starts to go down and start walking back to the trailhead before darkness starts to creep in. Fading daylight can cause panic, which could trigger bad decisions like following the wrong trail.

6. Go With A Fully Charged Phone

Out in the wild, there is no guarantee that there will be cell coverage. But you definitely don’t want to be caught up in a messy situation with a dead battery.

So charge your phone and if you have one of these portable solar chargers, bring it with you, just in case. Also, add a few emergency contacts in your phone even if you will be hiking on a patrolled trail.

On The Trail

1. Stay Alert

No trail or intersection will look exactly like the other, so be on constant look for easily identifiable landmarks. See if you can locate them on maps so you can keep track of where you are coming from and where you are headed. In the unfortunate event that you get lost hiking, you will be able to pinpoint these landmarks on your map and find your way back to the trailhead.

2. Pay Attention To Other Hikers’ Prints

Sometimes you will find yourself at intersections that you had not anticipated. Other times, you will end up in a spot with shortcut trails created by hikers. If you are using the trail for the first time, such areas can be confusing.

So here is the trick – always look for the main trail. This will usually show more foot traffic and wear. If you encounter junctions that are particularly puzzling, create small markers from branches or trees, so you can know your way back. Just remember to remove them on your return.

3. Avoid Side Trips

Responsible hikers stick on the established trails. You want to stray off and find a place to catch your breath, catch a view, or unleash your new hiking camera, we get it. But sometimes side trips could get you losing track of the main trail especially if you walk too far off it. What’s more, the more you stray, the more you increase your risk of getting lost or leaving for the trailhead late.

4. Trust Your Instincts

Most of the times, when we start feeling as if something is not right, our anxiety level rises. If you pay attention to it, you will sense when you are losing bearings. Listen to your instincts and stop before you walk even further off the right course. Check your navigation tools and try to orient yourself again.

What To Do If You Are Lost In Wilderness

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Despite planning your trip accurately, doing your preparations right, and knowing how to use your navigation tools, the worst still happened – you got lost! So, what now? Following the proper survival guidelines will increase your odds of being saved rather than recovered.

The most effective survival technique for when you are lost hiking would be to follow the STOP rule – Stop, Think, Observe, Plan. This will involve the following:

1. Staying Calm

In a situation like this, you need to remain as calm as you possibly can.  Panicking will often lead to poor decisions and wasted energy.

Look for a comfortable spot that you can sit. Get something to eat and take a few gulps of water. This will help you center yourself, calm your mind, and think straight before taking any action.

2. Check How Much Resources You Have

Take inventory of the remaining food and water and reduce your consumption to avoid draining your stocks before your next move or rescue arrives. There is no need to start drinking from streams or foraging for food unless it is absolutely necessary.

3. Analyze The Situation

Try retracing your steps. Think about anything you saw on the way that could help you remember how you got here.

Do you have any landmarks marked in your map? Did you take any pictures along the trail that you could use to find your way back? You may also want to use your compass to try pinpoint your exact location or look up in the sky for the direction of the sun.

See whether you can remember your last exact location and whether it is possible to get there on your own. If you can find your way back to that spot, you could probably be able to reorient yourself and hike back out to the trailhead.

4. Use Your Phone And Whistle

If you discover that you are completely lost, check your phone to see if the area has cell coverage. If you had saved any emergency numbers, call them for rescue. Moreover, close all applications that could drain your phone’s battery.

Also, don’t yell for help. Instead, blow your whistle, as it’s much louder and more likely to be heard. Three whistle blasts are the recognized distress signal, so do this and wait for a couple minutes then blow again.

5. Make Yourself Easy To Spot

Don’t hide behind trees or shrubs, as this will only make it more difficult for the rescue team to spot you. It would be wise to move to an area where you can easily be seen from the air. Provide additional visual cues by waving any brightly colored clothing or object you have in the air.

Draw more attention to your location by starting a small fire. But be careful with the fire and make sure you are not leaving it untended. You don’t want any accidental wildfire.

What If You Have To Spend The Night?

Sometimes, even after trying everything, your efforts to be rescued may just hit a dead end. So what should you do in such an instance? Read on!

1. Look For A Warm, Sheltered Spot

Getting lost in wilderness is not something anyone plans for, so you won’t have a tent, a sleeping bag, or even a blanket to wrap yourself up if you end up staying the night. To avoid catching a cold virus, find a place that is warm, dry, and wind free and put on extra clothing. Hypothermia is real folks and sometimes a few hours of breathing cold air is all it takes to become a victim.

2. Prepare Your Shelter Early

If the sun starts to sink without any signs of rescuers, just start getting ready to spend the night. You don’t want to start looking for a place to sleep when it is already dark.

Set up your shelter and collect wood for a fire when you can still see what’s around you. Also, avoid assembling your camp near a river. The sound of running water may make it difficult for you to hear the rescue team.

How To Survive Until You Get Rescued

If no rescuers will have arrived by sunrise, you will need to devise ways to continue surviving. It won’t be easy but there are things you can do to make it bearable. Here are a few:

1. Stay Hydrated

You can live up to twenty one days without food but only three days without water. So when stuck in the wilderness, your main focus should be to find a source of water and refill your bottles.

2. Combat Fatigue

When you are exhausted, it can be difficult to make sound decisions. So sleep whenever you feel fatigued. There is nothing much you can do anyway.

3. Keep Yourself Warm

We can’t give enough emphasis on the need to stay warm and dry if you are lost hiking. Unless you are experiencing a 24 hour long spring day, chances are you will get cold or hot, and neither is good.

One can cause heat sickness and dehydration and the other can cause hypothermia. Prevent excess sweating when it is hot, and freezing when it gets colder by adjusting your layers accordingly.

4. Clean And Treat Infection

A cut, however small can cause a dangerous infection, if not cared for. It would be best to avoid situations that could lead to you getting wounded. And if you do end up with a scrape, clean and disinfect it to prevent it from worsening.

Globo Surf Overview

Getting lost in wilderness is the last thing any outdoor enthusiast wants to experience. Good news? It can be prevented by planning right and being aware of your surroundings while on the trail.

Carry the right gear and once you start the walk, pay attention to your trail and any landmarks around you. If you find yourself lost, stay calm and brainstorm the best way to signal for help and survive until you are found.

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Globo Surf
My name is David Hamburg. I am an avid water sports fan who enjoys paddle boarding, surfing, scuba diving, and kite surfing. Anything with a board or chance I can get in the water I love! I am such a big fan I decided to start this website to review all my favorite products and some others. Hope you enjoy!