Most people who go out and enjoy the outdoors don’t think they will become lost, but it can happen shockingly fast. Trails can peter out or become overgrown. All the rocks you try to remember as landmarks look alike when you are in a canyon or above the tree line. Even if you have a map, you might walk for hours without looking at it, confident in your bearing when, in fact, you have no clue.
Becoming disoriented in the wilderness does not have to be disastrous. Following these simple rules from Global Rescue Senior Ops Manager Drew Pache, a former Green Beret, will help you to stay safe and get found.
• Don’t panic. People rarely make good decisions when they are hysterical, so take some deep breaths and chill. Assess your situation. What gear, food and clothing do you have with you? Will anyone know you’re missing?
• Stay put. All instincts will tell you to keep moving, to keep looking for that last place you recognize. This instinct is lying to you. A little backtracking is fine—and maybe you can move to some high ground to try and get your bearings (or a cell signal)—but if you do this and determine you are truly lost, now is the time to get comfortable. Moving without knowing where you are headed makes you tired, and being tired increases your risk of injury. It also will cause you to go through whatever food and water you have more quickly. At this point, your priorities are water, shelter, fire and food—in that order.
• …except when you shouldn’t. The one exception to the “stay put” rule is if you didn’t tell anyone where you are going. They won’t find you if they don’t know you’re missing or where to start looking. A general rule to follow here is to head downhill. Eventually you will hit a stream. Now you have water to drink and a terrain feature you can use as a guide. This stream eventually will flow into a larger stream, and then a larger one. You usually will find people near a water source, and this increases your odds of finding help.
• Advertise your dilemma. Whether staying put or on the move, call out and do your best to make yourself seen. If you have a whistle, use it. Bright-colored clothing or tents should be as visible as possible. If necessary, move to a field or clearing so you are visible from the air. Also start a fire. It will keep you warm, and burning green leaves will make lots of smoke that can be seen from a long distance.
Fortunately, with a little bit of planning and knowledge, hunters and other outdoor enthusiasts typically can avoid getting lost in the first place. But just in case, keep these rules in mind.
• Always tell someone where you are going and when to expect your return or a phone call.
• Carry a GPS and/or map of the area. You don’t need to be a whiz with a compass but you need to at least know how use the map, orient it to North and follow a cardinal direction.
• Use the My Global Rescue mobile app to leave breadcrumbs along the way—and to call us for help!
• Dress for the weather and carry a container for water and means to purify it.
• Carry fire starters and know how to use them.
• Be prepared to spend the night outdoors.
These common-sense rules apply across the board for wilderness travel and will keep you happy, safe and on course the next time you head into the woods.
About Global Rescue: Global Rescue has provided travelers all over the world with medical advisory and evacuation services since 2004, with more than 12,000 missions completed. Before your next trip, consider a Global Rescue membership as part of your survival plan. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 617-459-4200.