Wilderness Survival What To Do if You Are Lost

About what to do if you are lost in the wilderness, some instructions and helpful hints to help you survive.

LOST!

In cases of low visibility, or when you are without compass and map, and you can't backtrack easily, sit down and think. Have a bite to eat. Think about where the trail should be or was and figure out which direction you came from. Then go back if you're 100% sure. If uncertain, tie a flag visible from all directions to a tree or some high point, and walk a circle around the flag, moving as far away as you can while still keeping the flag in sight as you look for the trail. If you don't find the trail, seriously consider making camp; don't rush off haphazardly. If you have to, find shelter. Mark your path with piles of rocks, tied bunches of grass, or twigs. (See: Trail Signs illustration.)

After you find shelter, start exploring the area carefully, being mindful not to lose sight of your camp, as you look for familiar territory or roads. Look for roads in the distance, on the sides of hills, or across meadows. They are generally straighter than any natural phenomenon. Climb a tree! Look for lights at night. If you find some, mark the direction on the ground, and look for rooftops or other signs of habitation in the morning. Sniff the air! You may be able to detect smoke from a camp or habitation. Note the wind direction and mark your trail so you can find your way back if you lose the scent. Don't try moving cross-country at night. Even a full moon can throw tricky shadows and make footing difficult, hiding pitfalls, etc. The exception: When in the hot desert, it is sometimes better to move at night to conserve water and avoid heat prostration.

When choosing shelter for the night, look for a spot that won't be flooded and is protected from the wind on as many sides as possible. Wind direction commonly shifts during the course of a night. Always put twice as much insulation under you as over you. With a little padding, a shallow hip and shoulder hole will increase comfort. On cold nights, don't pick valley bottoms or hollows; cold air will collect there. In some areas a lean-to with a fire in front is one of the easiest shelters to construct from natural materials. (See: Lean-to illustration.)

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