Deep in the Wilderness

What to do When You Become Lost in the Wilderness

In my last article I wrote about how to keep from getting lost, you can read that by clicking here.  However, when you venture deep into the wilderness, sometimes it happens, it has happened to me before, and I’m sure it will happen again.  As I mentioned in my last article, I have always been able to find my way back, only having to spend the night out a few times, and I have never been lost for more than one night.  Actually, on those nights that I had to spend the night away from camp I knew where I was by the time I decided to find shelter, it was just too late in the night and I was too tired to keep going.

If or when it happens to you, there are a few things that you can do to make the experience less traumatic.  The first thing to do is be prepared.  Whenever you venture out into the wilderness, even for a day hike, always have some basic survival gear with you.  In addition to a map, compass, knife, and basic first aid, I always bring these things:

  • 2 Survival Blankets – I prefer a larger, more durable survival blanket like the Bear Grylls Survival blanket, which you can see by clicking here.  This blanket has the reflective inner material that will help keep you warm, but the other side is bright orange which can be used as a signaling device, or make your presence known to search and rescue personnel.  I carry one for a shelter, and the other for keeping me warm and dry.
  • Water Purification Tablets – A small bottle of these don’t take up much space at all, and can be a life saver.
  • Fire Starter – I always have a waterproof container of matches, as well as a fire starter and some tinder as a backup.  I can start a fire in the worst downpour with a fire starter and some tender, such as the Esbit Fuel Tablets, which you can see by clicking here.  A good steel rod with a striker is very easy to carry, you can see an example of one by clicking here.   
  • Para Cord – Para cord has many uses, but combined with one of your emergency blankets you can easily make a shelter.
  • Emergency Food – Such as power bars and beef jerky.  These are light weight, take up little space, and require no cooking or utensils.
  • Candle Lantern – I carry a UCO Micro Candle Lantern, which you can see by clicking here.  This is a great thing to have to provide some light in your shelter area, and it provides a psychological boost by just having the ability to see around you without using a flashlight.  Which by the way, you should have extra batteries for your flashlight or headlamp.

These basic items do not weigh much or take up a lot of space, and knowing that you have these items with you makes getting lost seem like less of a dire situation, which brings me to my next point.  Hopefully you let someone know where you were going and when you would be back, that is the first rule of survival.  Knowing that you did that and that you have the supplies you need to stay out over night should provide you with some mental confidence that everything is going to be OK.

Your mental attitude is crucial in a situation of getting lost.  The first thing to do is realize and accept the fact that you are lost, and then devise a plan of action.  You have the confidence that you have everything you need, and that someone will be looking for you if you are not back at a certain time, so don’t panic.  Instead assess the situation in a rational manner.


Using your hand to determine daylight

If it is still daylight, determine how much daylight you have left in the day.  You can do this by extending your hand fully in front of you and horizontally at the base of the sun.  Each finger between the sun and the horizon of the ground represents about 15 minutes of daylight. Then find a place to hunker down for the night.  If you are in the mountains or an area of hills, try to find a level place in the middle third of a slope with good drainage.  The lower third of a slope will hold cold sinking air, and the upper third could subject you to wind.  Avoid areas with thick vegetation if possible, as these areas attract a lot of insects.  If you can find a place that backs up to a rock formation, this will help give you protection from predators.


Different Options for a Tarp Shelter

Use your paracord and a survival blanket to make either a lean-to or a pup tent. Gather some firewood, enough to get you through the night.  In a heavily forested area you can find dead, dry limbs on pine trees that you can easily break off with your hands.  This is called squaw wood because Native Americans had the females of the tribe collect wood in this manner.  The canopy of the trees keeps this wood dry, so it will burn fast and hot for you.

If you head out into the wilderness without these basic preparations and get lost, it would be a miserable night.  But if you are prepared, once you get a shelter set up, a fire going, and your candle lantern lit, it will seem like you are just camping out for the night, which is really all it comes down to.