The great outdoors is a beautiful place to explore but it can also be extremely unforgiving. If you’re heading out in the vast wilderness, the ultimate tool for survival is advanced planning. Extreme weather conditions, getting lost on a trail, becoming separated from your party, or getting injured are all worst-case scenarios in which you could potentially find yourself. Things don’t always go as planned; that’s why it’s essential to plan ahead, even if you only intend to be out for a few hours.
When planning for a trip, it’s important to pack the essentials which can prevent you from getting into trouble in the first place and help you if you do.
- Enough food and water for the activity planned
- A compass and/or GPS device (phones may not always have service)
- Maps of the terrain and planned route
- Sturdy footwear, extra socks, and layered clothing appropriate for the weather conditions
- A blanket, flashlight, matches, and other necessary tools in a water-resistant pouch
- A first aid kit
Once you’ve planned your adventure and packed for it accordingly, one of the most important things you can do is tell someone. You should give them precise details on where you’re going, the trail you intend to follow, and when you will return.
In the event you do get lost, it’s vital not to panic. When panic sets in and you act on it, you’re more likely to make a mistake that could cost you. Instead, remember to STOP.
When you realize you may be lost, stop and try to stay calm. Realizing you may be lost can send you into a fight or flight response which can potentially make the situation drastically worse. Give yourself a moment to get in the right headspace. Sit down, have a drink of water, and take a few deep breaths. A stable mind will allow you to assess the situation best.
Now it’s time to think about your current situation and ask yourself questions. Do you know the route you took? Could you recognize any landmarks? Do you remember when you last had cell phone service? Have you seen anyone else? These questions could help you retrace your steps or find a way to get help.
Observe your surroundings. How much daylight do you have left? What landmarks are around you? Use your compass to gauge a direction. If you’ve taken photos check your camera to see if that could help you retrace your steps.
Once you’ve thoroughly assessed your situation, based on your thoughts and observations, come up with a plan that can help you get back on track. It’s vital to not act before you have a plan as this could potentially make you more lost and ultimately more panicked. If it’s getting close to dark, it’s best to wait til the sun rises to continue your trip and if you are injured or exhausted it may be best to stay in place and wait for a wilderness first responder.