If you spend any time hiking, camping, or generally exploring the woods, there is always a chance that you might find yourself lost in the wilderness no matter how familiar you are with the area or how well you think your GPS works. If you’re ever out exploring and suddenly realize you’re not sure how to get home, here are a few tips that will help you get back safe and sound:
1. Stop Moving and Stay Calm
Most people’s first response when they realize they’re lost is to panic and immediately try to retrace their steps. Unfortunately, this is the worst thing you can do. Retracing your steps may be a good idea, but it is easy to get turned around in the woods. Before you start moving again take a minute to collect yourself, take some deep, calming breaths, and make sure you are thinking clearly before moving again.
2. Think Back Over Your Recent Progress
Mentally re-trace your steps to see if you can remember anything significant about your path or location. Did you recently pass a stream or an unusual rock formation? How long have you been walking so far? What has the terrain been like? Any details you remember can help you find the right path out of the wilderness instead of wandering further from civilization.
3. Check Your Surroundings for Visual Clues
Can you see any recently broken branches or muddy footprints that might lead you back out of the woods? Can you tell which direction is north? Can you see any obvious clues of civilization like smoke that might lead you to help? These steps are especially important if you can’t retrace your steps and need to focus instead on finding people who can help you get home.
4. Make a Plan
Determine how much food and water you have on hand and how long you think that will last. How are your energy levels? If you’re already exhausted, you may need to rest some before trying to go back the way you came. Treat any cuts or wounds immediately before starting off again. Decide whether you’re going to try to follow your own path back out or if you’re going to try to reach some form of civilization.
5. Mark the Path
Once you have a plan and start walking, be sure to mark your path as you go. Ideally, you will arrange rocks or mark trees in a way that indicates which direction you are travelling, but at the very least find a way to show where you’ve been. This will let you know if you are travelling in circles, and directional markers can help search and rescue teams find you faster.
6. Don’t Give Up
As long as you tell someone your intended route and when you expect to be home, chances are someone will find you. Most areas have trained search and rescue teams and stand-by volunteers to help find people who get lost in the wilderness. Always bring plenty of water and emergency rations with you when you head into the woods, stay calm, and move in a carefully considered direction while marking your path behind you. If you do these things you most likely find your way home or find people who can help you get there.