It’s amazingly easy to get lost while hiking. One moment you are on track, and then you get distracted and are soon wandering in circles. Once you have calmed down, taken a deep breath, and have looked around, what do you do next?
Here are five things you can do when you get yourself lost to increase your chances of survival and rescue:
Find a clearing that is large enough so you can be seen by air or sea or land (depending on your locale). Build the letters SOS using whatever is available – rocks, sticks, and twigs. It has to be big, so create the letters the length of a person, and make them wide. If you have something bright, hang it from a nearby tree, even if it’s your underwear. Bright colors stand out in the wilderness, especially fluorescent colors since they aren’t found in a natural setting.
Clear loose undergrowth from an area before lighting a fire – you don’t want to burn down the forest, and a fire that’s too big won’t necessarily be better in helping save you. Use paper, dry moss, and small dry twigs to help the fire get started, and add bigger sticks and branches once it’s going well.
Green leaves and sticks make a nice, visible smoky fire, but keep adding dry wood as well so that the fire keeps burning. Use care to get your fire lit with your first attempt in order to conserve your matches or lighter fuel.
Find or create your own shelter to help protect you from the weather. If you are afraid of animals, you could try building a shelter in a tree, but it’s not recommended unless you already have the skills to do it. Be careful of using caves as they may already be occupied.
Use the materials around you, such as vines for binding and branches for walls and roof, to make a simple A-frame shelter.
The biggest danger for you is not staying warm enough. Even in summer, nighttime temperatures can drop. Stay close to your fire but in your shelter. Stack leafy branches or bracken across the floor to create a barrier between you and the cold ground.
If you have a large plastic bag, cut a hole in the top and wear it like a shirt. Check your bag for extra clothing and an emergency blanket. Those thin silver blankets work extremely well at keeping you warm
Stay where you are. You have your SOS and your smoky fire, and everything bright is hung up. The rest is up to your searchers now. Stay calm and wait.
Being prepared before you leave on any hike is the best survival tip of all. Tell someone where you are going and how long you will be. Pack a backpack and include matches, an emergency blanket, a rubbish bag, and extra clothes. Stay on the marked trails.