Let’s say you are new to the wonderful world of hiking in the wilderness. You wanted to get fit, enjoy nature, maybe do some fishing in a mountain lake, soak up the peace of the forest. So you decided to take up hiking. You bought all the gear, picked up a trail map and set out on your own. The one thing you forgot was a compass.
Now you’ve taken a wrong turn and end up being lost. The trail just sort of disappeared but you kept going, thinking it would show up again further up the trail. It didn’t. And now you’re not sure which direction you came from or even which direction you’re supposed to be heading.
Don’t panic. The first thing you want to do is stay where you are. Look over your map and see if you recognize in your surroundings any landmarks you might see on the map. This could help orient you again. If not, and you think you are truly lost, here are some problems you will need to recognize and overcome while you wait for searchers to find you:
1. Fear – This may be your first reaction once you realize you are lost. You know you may have to spend the night in the darkness of a forest and you also know that is when most predators come out searching for food. Hopefully, you have brought with you Bear Spray and a whistle or personal alarm. These can be invaluable if presented with a wild animal encounter. A personal alarm emits a very loud, piercing sound that may scare any animals away and certainly help rescuers locate you. Always build a fire in the open, which will also help keep predators away and help show your location.
2. Loneliness – If you are feeling lonely and bored while being lost, you simply are not doing enough to get yourself found. There is always something to do, such as build 3 fires in a triangle to light as a signal to planes or helicopters. You must seek out and collect water to filter or treat, firewood for the campfire, insulation material for your shelter. When you finish one task, look for another to perform. Even sleeping is a task that will help keep your strength up, so you might want to take some naps during the day, especially if the night sounds to keep you awake.
3. Thirst – The body can go for 3 days without water. That’s not a long time. So you will need to collect water. If you can’t treat or filter it, getting sick from drinking it is better than dying from not drinking it.
4. Hunger – The human body can go for 3 weeks without food, so this is the least of your problems. Yes, you will experience strong hunger pains at first, and you will get weaker as time goes by without eating, so you must try to get your tasks done early on while you have the strength. It would be of worth to you to do some research before your hike on what plants and berries are edible and which are not. Even a few plant roots will help keep you from total starvation.
5. Exhaustion – As the adrenalin from your initial fear wears off and you spend a lot of energy setting up signal fires, shelter, and finding food and water, you will start to experience exhaustion. Allow your body to rest when you are tired to save your strength. Take cat naps and try to make your sleeping area as safe, comfortable and warm as possible. This will help you sleep at night.
6. Hot/Cold – Many lost hikers are found suffering from hypothermia or heat-related problems. Try to avoid getting your clothes wet, but if it happens, do whatever you can to dry them out by a fire. Losing essential body heat through cold wet clothes will drop your body’s core temperature and cause hypothermia, which can kill if not treated within a reasonable time frame.
7. Injury – This poses problems in itself because every other necessary task becomes much more difficult if not impossible when you are injured. Even cuts must be washed and kept as clean as possible to avoid infection. But you cannot give in to your injuries if you are still able to function. It will be better to have a lasting scar than to lose your life completely. You still must make every attempt to survive and attract attention.
If you take the time to learn much about hiking in the wilderness before heading out there, you may avoid getting lost. When you’re out hiking, try to be observant of your surroundings and landmarks. And always have in your pack or on your belt – bear spray, a whistle, a personal alarm, a compass, a mirror for signaling and whatever else you can think of to keep you safe and on track. Enjoy the peace, but be safe out there.