A few years ago I met up with a friend I hadn’t seen for several months, we met up at 19:00, had dinner at a nearby restaurant and started walking out onto the moors around 22:00.
As we hadn’t seen each other for several months and were catching up, we only paid cursory attention to the map. By about 02:00 we realized that the terrain bore no resemblance to where we thought we should be. We decided to set up our tarps and bivy bags and hopefully, with the presence of daylight, we would be able to better assess our location.
Unfortunately the next morning we awoke to dense fog. So what did we do, well for starters we lit the stove and put a brew on!
It takes nothing more than a moment’s distraction to become lost in the wilderness.
Even seasoned hunters and hikers can manage it from time to time. Doing a familiar activity such making a hot drink allows our brain to focus on a routine task and calm down, this then allows us to better focus on our options and formulate an action plan.
Unfortunately when we are in a panic situation the ability to make good choice becomes diminished.
So what do you do now you have stopped hyperventilating and beating your chest about being lost?
We were lucky in that when the fog cleared the contours of the land made it clear where we had gone wrong and in which direction we need to walk in. However, if this was not possible then different tactics need to be called upon.
Without moving far from where you are you need to find a clearing which you can stand in and be seen from above. This is now your base of operations. Firstly, be realistic. Think ahead. Did you tell anyone where you were going and how long you would be? If the answer is yes, then, well done. If the answer is no, well still don’t panic, maybe think about making another hot drink?
Before you start building a big SOS sign or anything else, you need to look after yourself. You could be here overnight, or longer and daylight is now getting shorter. Put up a tent, tarp or make yourself a simple shelter.
Hypothermia is your enemy once the sun goes down and the temperature drops. So use what you have around you and anything useful in your pack to build something that is sturdy and will protect you from the elements.
Once that is done build a fire. Not a huge one, as starting a major forest fire won’t help you, a bigger fire than you need will also use up more resources if you have to keep it lit for any length of time.
The fire should be close to your shelter and capable of keeping you warm. Collect fallen wood and twigs from nearby so you can keep it going and on the other side store green leaves and branches for making a good thick white smoke for signaling.
Now it is time (as long as you still have light, or first thing in the morning) to build a large and simple SOS sign in the center of the clearing. Make it huge and use rocks, branches, whatever you can find. Remember, it needs to be seen from above. If you have anything brightly colored hang it from nearby trees – fluoro is the best as it is not a natural color.
Now it is a waiting game for you. Your job now is to stay warm and stay well. Add layers as the temperature drops. Use that garbage bag to make a poncho. Make sure you are not sitting on the bare ground, lay ferns, leaves or bracken across the earth and make yourself a snug nest.
And stay put. Do not wander away from your new campsite.
Always before you go hiking or camping in the wilderness let people know where you are going and when you will be back. Stay on marked trails and if you are going to wander off of the track, put up your own markers so you can find your way back, remember to remove these afterward.
You may also wish to consider carrying a GPS navigation device or a locator beacon like the SPOT. Perhaps most importantly, stay calm and never panic.
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