1. Travel

Five Things to Do When Lost in the Wilderness

By

Ledges, Cuyahoge Valley National Park, Ohio
© Lauren Himiak

It can happen quicker than you think. One minute you’re enjoying a lovely hike through the woods, and next thing you know you seem to be off the trail and clueless. Did you come from the left? Didn’t you pass that rock twice? All these trees look the same! Technically “freaking out” maybe the first thing you do, but after the panic attack do you know what to do if you’re lost in the wilderness?

Step 1 – Signal for Help

Find a clearing that can be seen from the sky or from the sea (depending on where you become lost). Look for anything that can be used to build letters – large branches, twigs, or rocks. Use anything you can to find SOS. Also, use anything with bright colors to hang a signal from a tree. Whether it’s a bandana or a sports bra, if it can grab someone’s attention, use it.

Step 2 – Build a Fire

You don’t have to go through the Boy Scouts of America to know how to start a fire. Remember that you want a decent fire, so make sure you have a spot that won’t start a massive forest fire. If you have any paper, use it as kindling along with some small, dry twigs. Use your matches to start the fire, and add anything green you can find. Green leaves will produce a thick, white smoke that will definitely attract attention.

Step 3 – Find Shelter

Obviously your best bet for shelter is a cave or underneath hanging rocks. If you cannot locate anything, see what materials you have to build a teepee. Garbage bags, sleeping bag covers, even large leaves may be used to protect you from the elements. If animals are your concern, building shelter in a tree is a possibility, though somewhat trickier than you may want to attempt. Try to move halfway up any peaks as cold air settles below valleys and winds are stronger.

Step 4 – Stay Warm

Hypothermia is your biggest enemy when lost in the wilderness. Even during the summer months, temperatures can drop once the sun goes down. Be alert for any tingling or numbness in your limbs. You will want to build a fire that can keep you warm (not used for a smoke signal). Look through your pack for any warm clothes and layer up for the night. You can keep warm and dry by cutting a hole (no bigger than three inches) in the bottom of your garbage bag and pulling it over your head. You want the hold to stretch but stay small enough to keep the cold air or rain out.

Step 5 – Stay Put

Though you may want to find your own way out, stay where you are. The more you move, the more challenging it becomes for someone to locate you. Before you leave, tell someone exactly where you are going and how long you plan on being there. This way if you do not return at a specific time, people will grow alarmed and begin a search.

Obviously being lost in the wilderness is not on the top of anyone’s list, but it can happen. Being prepared is the best way to ensure you come out alive and healthy. Before any trip it is crucial to make sure you have packed correctly and told someone your itinerary, even if you are traveling with people. And remember - try to stay on marked trails or at the very least, set up your own markers if you plan on venturing off the path.

Did You Know?

What are the two most important things to pack before hiking/camping? The answer may surprise you. Matches and a garbage bag!

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.