It doesn’t matter if you’re in the middle of a city or the woods, there’s nothing fun about realizing you’re lost. Getting lost in the middle of the wilderness is particularly dangerous and it’s something that can happen far too easily.
It’s in your best interest to learn how to prevent yourself from getting lost, which is why experienced survivalists work hard to memorize maps of the area where they’ll be hiking and always keep a high quality compass on hand. Skilled survival guides are always ready to handle any situation that comes their way in a levelheaded fashion.
It doesn’t matter if you’re in the woods because you want to spend a day hiking or were forced there as the result of a disaster, there are things you can do to stay safe until you return to civilization.
Before you take off by yourself, make sure your loved ones know what you’re up to and where you plan to go. It only takes a few moments to leave a note for your spouse or to send a text message to your best friend. Make sure that you include information about where you’re going and when you plan on returning, so they’ll know when to start worrying.
There’s no reason not to have a GPS and PLB on you when you go hiking in the woods or mountains. The devices currently on the market are surprisingly easy to carry, affordable, and accurate. The GPS unit lets you know your exact coordinates and directions to get you home. The PLB sends out a signal so that if you get lost, the rescue teams will be able to swiftly pinpoint your location. Before leaving home, make sure you tuck some extra batteries into your pocket.
Current GPS units are great but they’re not foolproof. It’s always a good idea to have a back up map tucked into your pack. The map needs to be current and very detailed. Survivalists suggest tucking the map into a plastic freezer bag so they stay dry.
Stay Calm and Access the Situation
Sometimes, despite your best efforts, you’ll still get lost. When this happens, quell the urge to turn around and start charging back the way you just came, that generally just causes you to get even more seriously lost. At this point, you need to stay calm.
Sit down, have some water, and take a few deep breaths. Once you’ve calmed down, mentally retrace your steps and see if you can’t pinpoint the moment you got lost. This is also a good time to scan the area and try to spot a trail marker.
Use some bright chalk or fluorescent tape to mark your current location. If you have a brightly colored tarp, you should spread it out on the ground of hang it from a tree branch where rescue crews will spot it.
Climb a tree or walk to the top of nearby hill. The better vantage point will allow you to scan the surrounding area. You might see the route that will take you home.
If you’re with a group of people, have a calm discussion about what the best course of action should be. Even if you’re alone, try talking to yourself. You’ll be surprised by how much better the sound of your own voice makes you feel.
If the light is starting to fade, you can reasonably assume you’re going to be in the woods overnight. Before the sun sets completely, scope out the area and choose the best spot to set up a shelter and build a fire. A good, smoky signal fire decreases the amount of time it takes rescue crews to track you down.
Beware of Urban Areas
Just because you’re in the middle of a city, it doesn’t mean you can’t get lost, especially if you’re in a foreign city and don’t speak the same language as the rest of the population. Another time it’s easy to get lost in an urban area is if there’s been a natural disaster that has wiped out the buildings, streets, and lines of communication.
Make sure you have a cell phone and charger with you at all times. These items increase the chances of you being able to contact someone who will be able to help you. The fact that most modern cell phones are also equipped with a really good GPS system is an added bonus. Keeping a compass tucked into your pocket at all times is also a good idea.
Always carry a few dollars in case you find a place to buy food and supplies. Don’t rely on credit cards since a lack of power means the credit card scanners won’t work. Don’t forget to keep good, clean water on hand and drink often.
In a disaster situation, keep a blanket handy. You can use it as a cloak when you’re cold and as a shelter when you need to rest. A pocket knife is an invaluable tool when you’re lost in an urban area. The knife can be used to help you build a shelter, defend yourself, or make kindling to start a fire.
Whether you’re lost in the wilderness or stranded in the city, it can be a scary experience. Remember that the most important thing you can do is to stay calm. Have you ever been lost in the woods? How did you find your way back to safety?