We never plan for things to go wrong on our hike, which is why it’s doubly important to be prepared if things do. Hikers and day trekkers are often those who fall victim to the belief that their experience and confidence in nature make them immune to the risk of getting lost, but statistics show that’s incorrect. Hundreds of people get lost in national parks and forests each year and the vast majority are hikers.
What to do if you become lost
While we can’t guarantee you will never become lost on a hike, it’s important to follow a few standard procedures to minimize the risk of being lost for long. These steps are: stop, think, observe, and plan.
The moment you realize you’ve become lost, stop moving. Stay calm and do not panic. Moving further off course will only make it more difficult for SAR to locate you.
Try to retrace your steps in your mind and think of things you saw: landmarks, photos, or anything that can help you figure out where you lost track.
If you are on the trail, it’s important to stay on it. Use a compass to help find your location and, as a last resort, follow a stream or river downstream.
When you have calmed, make a plan for yourself. If you are not confident in your plan, stay where you are. If it’s after dark or you’ve become very tired, it’s best to stay where you are and attempt to stay warm.
As you can tell, these survival steps reference some gear that you should always have on you when hiking. A small pack with the following emergency resources can literally mean the difference between life and death when you are out hiking and become lost or injured.
Emergency resources to have on hand:
They’re nowhere near as comfortable as a sleeping bag, but they’re a literal lifesaver in a pinch. A space blanket or emergency blanket is compact, easy to carry, and will help keep you warm if you have to stay out overnight.
These aren’t your traditional hiking snacks. These meal replacement bars are heavy hitters that can contain all you required caloric intake for a day.
You can survive without food, but you can’t survive without water. Don’t risk drinking unfiltered water, no matter how clean it looks. Instead, use a LifeStraw or personal filtration device to purify the water as you drink it.
In the event of a serious accident, an emergency tourniquet like those made by OMNA can be the one thing that saves you or your hiking buddy. It’s not pleasant to think about, but you’ll be thankful you have it if the worst happens.
A simple GPS watch won’t weigh you down or get in your way as you hike, but it will be a great tool to have when you need a compass, barometer, or even need to check your pre-downloaded maps.
Swiss Army knife or multi-tool
Slim and light, a traditional multi-tool with a sharp knife will provide you with ample tools should you find yourself lost and in need.
They’re light, cheap, and they will start a fire in minutes. When you’re out in the woods, alone at night, you will thank your lucky stars (and us!) that you remembered to pack a couple.