I find that many of my fellow Preppers seem to be avid outdoors folk.. must be par for the course since most who practice the art of the self-sufficient lifestyle to want to know our surroundings and understand what it means to live off the land. Some are very skilled hikers or hunting enthusiasts, some just like to explore but hopefully all should understand the dangers you may encounter out in the vast wilderness.
We hear stories about it in the news every day; the boy scout who wandered too far from his group and became lost in the mountains for three days in freezing temperatures. The hiker who slipped and fell in a crevice and was stranded there for days as her loyal pup went to summon for help. Or the most recent story about the parents who abandoned their 11 year old son in the forest as a punishment for throwing rocks in the water.
While each of these stories contains a noteworthy element of shock or surprise whether due to an unforeseeable accident or just to the sheer stupidity of some people the fact remains the same – being lost in the woods is scary as hell!
If you should find yourself lost in the wilderness there are many different variables you need to consider before determining the best course of action. Here are three practical wilderness survival tips that could actually save your life should you ever find yourself in this unfortunate situation.
1. Always Be Prepared
If you take a trip into the wilderness the best thing you can do is be prepared before you leave so that you can avoid getting lost in the first place. If you’re going backpacking alone you will want to make sure to let someone know where you are going, when you’re leaving and when they should expect you to return. That way if you do not return when expected there will be someone who knows where to find you.
If you are a beginner or unfamiliar with the landscape it is not recommended to go into the wilderness alone. You should always have a friend with you who can have your back should something bad happen. Even a slip and fall could turn into a fatal situation if there is no one there to go for help and you have no way of contacting emergency services.
Try to stay on the trail so that you can easily find your way back. If you choose to deviate from the beaten path, you should mark your way by leaving stones, sticks, etc. to track your way. You can also make note of landmarks that are easily recognizable to help you find your way back.
You should also make sure to take a pack with several emergency essentials; first aid kit, knife, rope, water purification, food, lighter, compass, whistle, bandana, inflatable solar lantern, phone or gps, etc. By taking these precautions before you leave, you reduce the likelihood of becoming lost in the woods. Even if you do get lost, the survival items you carry with you can keep you alive until you are rescued.
2. Assess the situation
First you need assess the situation that you find yourself in. Did you get separated from a group or were you traveling alone? The next steps that you take will depend largely on the answer to this question. If you got separated from a group chances are that they are currently trying to locate you. If they can’t locate you on their own there is a likely possibility they will be contacting authorities and search and rescue will be looking for you as well. If that is the case it makes sense to stay put where you are so that you can be located quickly.
If you’re out hiking alone and you get lost, that is a different story altogether. If you are in a high traffic location it still might be your best bet to wait until someone comes along who can help you get back on the right path. If you’re in a very remote area then chances of stumbling upon another hiker are slim to none. In that case you will want make a plan to find your way back to safety. Either way, the course you take will depend further on what time of the day it is and what the weather is like. Even if you’re all alone and don’t expect anyone to come looking for you, it is probably best to stay put and hunker down if you’re approaching nightfall or weather conditions are poor. Trying to find your way to safety in the dark of night or in the middle of a snow or rain storm will only make your situation worse. If that’s the case make a temporary shelter and hunker down for the night, then start again at first light.
No matter what – don’t panic! Don’t start running as fast as you can or screaming out for someone to hear you. That will only use up your stored energy and leave you feeling stressed out and exhausted. Keep calm, take a step back and assess the situation before you make any moves. When you’re calm and collected you can make wise decisions about which action to take next. By keeping your cool, you can logically plan your escape strategy without getting further lost or missing a rescue opportunity.
3. Find your way to safety
Once you have assessed the situation you should be able to plan your best method for survival. At this point you can determine whether you want to shelter in place and wait for rescue or try to find your way back to safety. Should you decide to shelter in place be prepared to provide the basic necessities to keep yourself alive through the night by using your survival knowledge to build a makeshift shelter.
Always bring a compass and familiarize yourself with basic navigation techniques so that you can find your way out. If you do not have a phone or GPS system with you, there are some basic navigation techniques that you can use to find your way back to safety. Following a river downstream is usually a foolproof way to find your way back to civilization.
This article was contributed by Todd Tucker, Survival Spot Blog Editor and contributing author. Todd has over 20 years of experience practicing and perfecting wilderness survival techniques. He is a highly skilled rough terrain hiker, climber, fisherman, large game hunter and survival gear expert.