Staying Found

Each year, dozens of people get lost and become the subjects of search-and-rescue missions. In most cases, people simply wandered off of marked trails and lost their bearings. Losing one’s way in the woods can be an unsettling, frightful experience. In this day and age of search and rescue teams, maps, compasses and high technology, lost most often means that at best you will be late for dinner and at worst that someone else will find you.

Following are some tips to help you stay found:

  • Always tell someone where you are going, when you will be leaving and when you plan on returning and then stick to your plan.
  • Be prepared for the worst. Just because you are heading out for a day hike under sunny skies doesn’t mean you won’t be forced to spend a night out under adverse weather conditions. Extra food and clothing are a minimum must.
  • Carry a lightweight survival kit with a space blanket, plastic tarp, nylon cord, waterproof matches, fire starter, whistle, signal mirror, water purification tablets, a metal cup to heat water in, a small flashlight and a knife.
  • Don’t just carry a map and compass, become proficient at using these tools. Join an orienteering club near you for added instruction.
  • Pay attention to your surroundings. Staying on the correct path and then being able to find your way back again requires 360 degree observation. Make mental notes of landmarks as you are walking toward them and then as you are walking away from them.

Should you get lost:

  • Don’t panic. Recognize the difficulty and then rationally work your way through it. Most often, if you sit down and calmly reflect for a few minutes, mentally retracing your steps, the solution to the situation becomes clear.
  • If you come to the conclusion you are definitely lost, stay put! Drink plenty of water. Your body can do without food for a few days, but it cannot function without water.
  • Signal your position by building a smoky fire. If you run out of food, don’t eat anything unless you are sure you can identify it as edible.
  • If nightfall approaches and you don’t know where you are, it is usually wiser to stay put and try to find your way out in the daylight.
  • Shelter yourself from the elements as best as possible. Use the tarp in your survival kit to fashion a lean-to. Use dry leaves other dry plant debris (not poison oak or stinging nettles) to insulate you from the ground and heat loss.
  • If you have a whistle, blow it. The sound may attract help. (The sound from a whistle travels farther and is more easily located than the sound of a shout.)

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