There are few things scarier than getting lost in the woods. Getting lost can happen to anyone at anytime even in places that are on familiar ground. Every year police and rescue agencies perform thousands of searches for missing people in the woods across North America. Most people are found safe and sound, but for others the outcome is not as happy. Getting found once you are lost in the woods is easier than it may seem at the time and there are several things you can do to help yourself be found.
Firstly, before venturing into the woods for a hike, hunt, or to play, make sure you tell someone trustworthy where you are going and what time you will be back. By letting a family member, trusted friend or neighbour aware of your plans you greatly increase the chance of being found before you even leave.
Secondly, be prepared before heading down the trail. Start by packing your backpack with a minimum of survival items and keeping the backpack with you at all times. Temperatures can drop significantly once nightfall sets in so you need to be prepared with a warm coat, hat, mitts, and rain gear. If you don’t have access to these things then improvise.
A plastic garbage bag can offer a way to repel water and keep heat in. If you don’t think to pack one, in a pinch you might have to empty a garbage can-should you come across one. Some other simple items to pack which could help get you be found include a safety whistle, compass, multi-tool, matches, first aid kit and a foil or fleece blanket. Bug repellent and sunscreen are also must have items in most places of North America at all times of the year.
As you start your trek in the woods keep track of landmarks. Landmarks are highly visible places that can not be mistaken for other objects. Landmarks can be anything such as ponds, rock faces, picnic tables, or hydro poles. Pick objects that are not likely to move and remember which you came to first.
Draw a little map to help you remember landmarks as you come across them such as your starting point, then a hydro pole, then a slight curve to the right on the trail as you go around a big rock, and then a creek you crossed before walking the short distance to a pond. The map doesn’t have to be a work of art, just something that will help you trace back your route, but the more details you can put on it the better.
As soon as you realize you are lost stop walking and don’t panic! Sit down and call for help by yelling and if there is signal on your cell phone. If you are walking with a friend try to get their attention and have them come back to you. If they seem to be lost as well make sure they don’t move either.
Try to communicate your location to your friend by yelling or blowing the emergency whistle. Have your friend come to you don’t try to move from your location. You could walk right by your companion and then both of you would be lost, again. Most people who get seriously lost would have been all right if they had just stopped for a minute and tried to re-find their last landmark.
Once you stop moving try to hide under a big tree. The tree will offer some shelter at night keeping the chilling dew off as well as giving you a landmark place. If you need to go search for food venture only really short distances from this tree so you can easily find it again. If you keep walking you will make yourself even more lost, which in turn makes it much harder for rescuers to find you.
An emergency whistle is loud and easy to use, even if you are feeling weak or injured. Blowing on the whistle will attract rescuers or friends to your location and produces a unique sound that will not be easily confused with other woodland sounds.
If you have a foil blanket, wrap yourself in it as night falls. The foil blanket will help contain body heat and since it is very shiny will be visible from a long distance away. If you don’t have a foil blanket then the garbage bag can be used here to help conserve heat and keep the dampness off. Try to keep an air space between the plastic and your body so dampness doesn’t build up in the bag or under the blanket possibly chilling you even further.
Getting lost in the woods is a scary experience for anyone to endure. If this should happen to you remember these simple rules: Don’t Panic, Don’t Move, Hide Under a Tree, and Find Your last Landmark. Keeping your cool and knowing how to help yourself will make sure that rescuers find you sooner rather than later.
Copyright 2019 Mike Wilson