For stress and fatigue, there are few better solutions than a day spent walking through the forest. On the other hand, being lost in the woods is less relaxing than spending the day in an office. Knowing what to do can keep an idyllic dayhike from turning into a nightmare.
Boy Scouts do a lot of camping and hiking, and they know that proper preparation can be the difference between an adventure and a disaster. Perhaps that’s why “Be Prepared” has been their official motto since 1910. An undesirable situation only becomes a problem if you aren’t prepared to deal with it. In most cases, preparation is a state of mind, and having the right knowledge can change everything. Know any special health requirements the people in your group have. Also, know multiple emergency contact numbers, and keep track of where everyone is at all times. If your group splits up for any reason, make sure you know where to meet up, and when to start worrying if someone isn’t there.
Tell Someone Where You’re Going
This piece of advice is mentioned so often because it is one of the most important single things a hiker can do to keep him/herself out of trouble. Almost every accident that can happen on a hiking trip is survivable, provided that help comes within a few days. If someone knows when you should be back, your failure to return on time is as good as a 911 call. People will spring to action immediately to try to find you.
Know the Area
Most campgrounds, national parks, and national forests have maps for visitors. Make sure everyone gets one and can identify your starting point and the route you plan to take. People who are bad with maps are often reluctant to admit it, so it’s important to make sure that everyone understands the map and can use it properly. Most ranger stations also have material on the plants and animals of the region. Even if you don’t read it in advance, it’s always a good idea to have some of this information with you.
Take the Right Gear
Just because it’s hot during the day, doesn’t mean that it won’t drop below freezing by nightfall, and just because you plan to be sitting in a restaurant by then, doesn’t mean that you will be. Also, keep in mind when packing for a hiking trip that many everyday things can become extremely useful in a survival situation. Always take a warm jacket, a rain poncho, shoes with good, strong shoelaces, and some sort of fire-making equipment.
Know Your Limits
Hikers are normally of that strange breed that likes spending the day hot, sweaty, dusty, and short of breath just to watch the sunset from the top of a mountain. While this experience can be quite rewarding, it’s important to know your limits in advance. A life-threatening medical emergency, such as a heart attack, is far more dangerous when it occurs out of reach of treatment.
If you do get lost, the first thing to do is to stop walking. The reason for this is fairly straightforward. At the point when you realize you’re lost, there is only one direction that will take you back to where you are supposed to be, and countless others that will take you farther away. The chances of you walking in the right direction (after having just proven yourself incapable of doing so) are extremely slim. It’s better to stay where you are and start looking for ways to help rescuers find you.
Make a Signal
If you’ve followed the tips given here, someone will eventually notice that you haven’t come back and start looking for you. Of course, since you’ve wandered off the trail, they probably have no idea where you are. Doing anything that will alert others to your location will draw someone to you. Any set of three signals is usually taken as a sign of distress. Start three smoky signal fires, blow on a whistle three times or, if hunting, fire a gun three times in rapid succession. All of these signs should alert anyone nearby that something is wrong.
When lost in the forest overnight, cold is by far the greatest danger to your health. The most important thing is to find a warm, dry place to sleep. There are plenty of ways to do this in almost any situation: a large tree can be used to build a lean-to with leafy branches, a group of small trees can be tied together at the top to make a sort of dome, or a couple of plastic ponchos can be snapped together to make a tent. The key is to keep an open mind and be resourceful.
When most people imagine being lost in the wilderness, they wonder how they would find food. This is really not an issue. A healthy person can survive for weeks without food. The most important thing is water. Spring water can usually be drunk safely, but avoid any dirty or stagnant water. If there is no clean water, you can boil water or make a crude still using a shallow pit and a rain poncho.
Make a Fire
Fires are extremely useful in the woods. You can boil water, cook food, stay warm, keep wild animals away, and alert rescuers to your location. However, starting a fire with two sticks is not as easy as it looks on television. It requires patience, experience, and the right types of wood. It is really not an option in an emergency. This is why it is absolutely essential that you always carry a survival kit that contains some sort of fire starter, even on short hikes.