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What to do if You Become Lost

By: Jeff Durham - Updated: 30 Oct 2019 | comments*Discuss
What To Do If You Become Lost

Although prior preparation before you go out on your walking trip should ensure that you are easily able to get out of a situation if you become lost, the important thing is not to panic. Several of the articles that are contained within this website have been designed to help with preparing you for a hiking or walking trip in the best and safest way possible and a couple of the articles are extremely valuable reference points should you encounter an emergency when out walking. However, if you should become lost, don’t make the mistake that many walkers do and continue blindly on in the hope that you’ll soon emerge into a location which will help you re-establish your bearings. In other words, as soon as you know you’re lost….STOP!

Gather Your Thoughts

Once you’ve stopped walking because you’re lost, don’t panic. Calmly sit down and, perhaps, use this as an opportunity to take on board some water and a little food and give yourself the opportunity to assess your situation. Try to think of where you were last certain of your location and try to think of waypoints or physical landmarks you encountered which you might be able to pinpoint on the map which might enable you to navigate back towards that point.

Use All Of Your Senses To Make Observations

If you’re part of a group, take the opportunity to discuss the above points with other members. We all make different observations as we are out hiking in the great outdoors so what you might have overlooked may have been spotted by someone else in your group which may lead you back to safety. Also, take a moment to be still and quiet and use your sense of hearing. Often, sounds that you might still be able to hear when all around you is still and quiet can trigger off memories of landmarks from where you’ve just come from and this can lead you back to safety. Use your voice to shout ‘help’ occasionally or let out a piercing whistle. You may be closer to help than you realise.

Make An Assessment And Then Form A Plan

Even if one of your party is confident that they can navigate back towards a familiar point on your route, make an assessment based on the current conditions. Questions you may want to ask yourself might include considering the weather or the time of day if it’s nearing nightfall and if you’re in any doubt about being able to get back to a certain familiar point because of the weather or the fact that it’s going to get dark, it’s better to pitch camp for the night or find shelter and warmth. If you’re genuinely lost with no apparent idea of which direction you should take next, finding shelter and building a fire will at least improve your morale and by walking on with no real sense of direction, it can often make matters worse for you in terms of your safety and of any rescue teams being able to find you. So, in these circumstances, wait until morning before reassessing the situation. ‘Sleeping on it’ can also help to refresh your memory the next day.

Summoning Help

Obviously, things like mobile phones and GPS devices should be your first port of call when trying to extricate yourself from a situation where you are lost in the great outdoors. However, there are other ways you can signal for help. Obviously, at night time, shelter and warmth should be your primary objectives but when it’s appropriate to summon help, try to navigate to an area that is away from trees, if you’re in a wooded area so that you are more visible to any aerial rescue teams that may be out looking for you. It is these areas too that are ideal for starting a signal fire – which is a separate fire from the one you’ll build to cook on and to keep you warm. It’s one whereby you’ll be looking to generate as much smoke as possible which can be seen from above so the fire will rely on plenty of greenery on the branches you use.

The general advice however should be that if you are genuinely lost outdoors and have absolutely no clue as to how you might get back to a familiar point, sit it out and wait for rescue to arrive, ensuring that you are also familiar with and practice the main priorities of survival.

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The first instruction is not to panic. You might not be as lost as you believe you are. If you're carrying an OS map, and you always should when hiking, then you should be able to approximate your position from the features around you, such as a hill or valley or a stream. On a sunny day you should be able to orientate yourself by checking the time and the position of the sun - this will help you figure out which way is north and you can work out the way to civilisation.
Michael W. - 14-Jun-12 @ 9:14 AM
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