I think I’m a pretty well-prepared person who plans ahead, but, well, I’ve been lost and here’s the story!
On one hunting trip, my plan was to get dropped off at a trail head before sunrise, leave the trail and follow the ridgeline (for about an hour), and find a spot overlooking a basin. I should have been able to see our camp from that vantage point. As the sun came up, a heavy fog rolled in and I had missed the turn off point to follow the ridgeline. By the time I finally stopped hiking, I knew I was lost and disoriented. I knew that my compass was right but my brain told me that North was in another direction and I couldn’t recognize any landmarks. That’s lost!
Personal preparation is always important in these situations. Knowledge of what you really need to do comes from experience and experience comes from getting out there and doing. So, talk about it with your friends and hiking partners. Have a plan!
If you are lost, start with a positive attitude and trust your training. You know what to do, so do it! Get out your GPS or, map and compass, find a landmark and hike out! Simple!
If it’s obviously more complicated than that, have the sense to recognize the facts and go into the “I am truly lost” mode and let your preparation pay off.
When we’re talking about preparation, we like to start with the basics that we call “the big three”.
Water, Shelter, and Warmth.
You can last many days without food, but when dehydration or hypothermia sets in, you’re toast, so be prepared! Let’s talk about each one.
Dehydration is a huge threat. Many times, you will not recognize the signs. You can live many days without food but not without water.
Start with a great hydration pack and add a water filter that will allow you to drink from rivers, lakes and streams without concern about bacteria. I have owned many hydration packs and, by far, my favorites are Geigerrig hydration packs.
Whether you are day hiking or hunting for an extended time, an emergency shelter is essential. It could be as simple as getting close to the trunk of a pine tree with dense, low hanging branches that will shed the rain and wind. I have often done this to get protection from a quick moving storm. A cave is always a welcome find, but rarely convenient to your location. I always carry a “Life Bivy” which is a 4.1 ounce sleeping bag. It can keep you dry in a rain storm or can save your life by conserving body heat if the weather gets extreme.
Conserving and protecting body heat is more than just being comfortable. Hypothermia can sap your strength, cloud your thoughts, and shut down vital organs.
Correct clothing for the outing is important. Remember, there is no bad weather, only bad clothing! In addition to the correct clothing, I always carry something to start a fire with. It’s convenient to carry a lighter but if that fails, I always have a backup such as flint that is designed to spark when struck with my knife. (which I never leave at home)
Finally, if you are seriously lost, get comfortable and stay put. Searchers will find you quicker if you do not travel away from, what they will determine is, your last known location. Staying put means 3 days!
Now is the time to busy yourself with assisting the searchers. This includes making yourself known through emergency signals which we will discuss in another article.
Here’s the end of my “being lost” story: Although I couldn’t recognize any of the landmarks around me, I knew that a river was to the South but I couldn’t see it. I put my faith in my tried-and-true compass and I correctly oriented myself. As the fog lifted, I climbed the tallest tree I could see and looked South. Using my binoculars, I spotted the smallest reflection of water from the river and knew I had found a landmark. Hiking to the river, I followed it upstream and found my campsite. I was many hours late but my camping buddies knew to not start a search until I had been out overnight. Yes, I missed a few steps that would have helped (buddy system, radio) but gained some experience.
I was grateful for some pre-planning and knowledge that prevented a longer lost experience.
Have fun out there and be safe!