What to do when you’re lost in the woods
1. Take a moment to just breathe –
Realizing that you’re lost is stressful and unsettling. So do whatever you need to do to relax for just a minute… do some stretches, make a poem about the scary looking tree. This moment alone could be all you need to get un-lost, but if you’re still lost:
2. Asses the hazards –
OK you’re lost but how bad is it really? Are you injured? How far have you traveled since you last knew where you were? Does anybody know where you went? How long till someone starts noticing your absence? What do you have with you? What are the true dangers? Are there cliffs, etc? The basic idea hear is - don’t make it worse, take advantage of what is going right.
3. Come to your senses –
Use all of your senses. If you have managed to calm down a bit then perhaps simply “tuning in” might help the situation. Do you hear and recognizable distant sounds such as traffic, people, machinery? Do you see any familiar landmarks such as streams, hiking trails or distant hills that may guide you? Do you feel warm or cold? Going through all of your sense can be relaxing as well as informative.
4. Make observations from multiple perspectives –
Once you’re relatively calm and utilizing your senses start thinking in terms of “Near & Far”. What does the landscape look like around you? What is the terrain like? Look at the contours of the land both close by and far away. Is the sun visible? Can you determine which way you came from?
5. Make a decision –
Consciously choose what you are going to do only after relaxing and making a thorough set of observations. The basic rule of thumb is that you should simply stay put, but there are sometimes good reasons for not doing so. This is a good time to consider one basic fact: if you leave the spot where you are you will likely walk in circles and you may become more lost.
If you stay:
• Make your self more visible – Light a fire, make lots of noise, pick an open and/ or elevated location (it’s not a good time to fall out of a tree).
• Respond to rescuers –Many lost people become fearful to the point of hiding from rescuers. Between making noises, be sure to stop and listen hard.
• Take care of your self – Seek out natural shelters, stay hydrated, use the tools and resources you have and forgive yourself for being a modern human.
If you keep moving:
• Stay Present – Continue to assess the situation & use all your senses. This is the time to play back all the time you’ve heard someone say “Stay calm! Everyone just stay calm…” and then to follow that advice. Breathe. Listen. Go slow.
• Be intentional – Do not wander aimlessly. If you can not get back to the place where you first realized that you were lost then you’ll be in serious danger of becoming “more lost”.
• Know when to stop – If you are no longer feeling well, if you are getting too cold or are otherwise unable to make decisions based on good observations then it may be time to take care of your basic needs: warmth and hydration. You can do this much better by staying put and focusing on resources.
Aidless Navigation Tools
A critical fact to consider is that in uniform terrains people tend to travel in circles when they are lost. This is not very helpful when you are trying to get somewhere, but knowing this will allow you to do something different.
Tool number 1: “Sight lining” - or How to walk in a straight line
If you can line up three objects in the landscape then you can walk in a straight line. Simply walk to the second object, glance back to the first and ahead to the third then pick a new object to walk to that is in line with both. If you continue this leap frog exercise then you will be going in a straight line and not walking in circles. In locations such as Tompkins County where wilderness areas are rather small, walking in a straight line will get you to civilization relatively soon.
Tool number 2: “Song lining”
This tool can be most helpful if you practice it before you are lost, but it works the same either way. The principal is to create a story or “song” that uses natural objects and features in the landscape as the characters. Begin by choosing a unique feature in the landscape that you could easily recognize (from any angle) when you see it again. Head off in the direction you desire to go but before losing sight of your chosen object pick another one to string along in your story. The more personal you make these objects (“Uncle Bob’s big hairy toe”) the easier it will be to remember the story as you go. Add a familiar melody, and repeat as you go.
Tool number 3: Build a sun compass
If the sun is shining and you have shadows to play with give this a try. Put a straight stick in the ground and take note of where its shadow is cast. Mark the tip of the shadow where it falls on the ground with another stick. Over the course of the next 15 minutes to an hour, the original shadow will move far enough for you to mark it’s tip several more times. If you connect the points that you have marked you will have something close to a straight line moving west to east. You can now determine which way is north and south by simply making a perpendicular line to the points you have marked. And now you have a compass!
For many more tools or a chance to intentionally get lost (with a guide) give us a call or shoot us an email.