Lost in the Woods: Your Guide to Getting Out Alive

If you’ve ever wandered off the beaten path while on a nature hike, you may be familiar with that ball of dread that appears in your belly when you can’t immediately find your way back to the trail. When you look around and see only a wall of indistinguishable trees on all sides, it doesn’t take long for terror to set in. You also probably know that feeling of relief that washes over you when you finally get back on course.

But what if you didn’t? What if you never found your way back to the path? What then?

If you ever find yourself lost in the woods, here are some steps you can take to survive until you find your way back to safety.

Contact Anyone You Can

First things first. If you get lost in the woods, chances are you weren’t dropped there by helicopter. You strayed from your group. You walked too far away from the trail. What’s important, then, is that you act fast. Don’t let your pride keep you from yelling for help, making an embarrassed call to your friends, or even dialing 911. If you act fast, you can stop a crisis before it begins.

Keep an Eye on the Sky

Assuming that you are truly lost and there is no hope of getting out of this predicament immediately, let the time of day determine your next steps. If it’s early and cool, you have time to hike and look for a way out of the woods. Short of having a compass, you can use the position of the sun to tell you which direction you’re moving in. If it’s hot or getting near dark, start looking for a place to camp instead. You don’t want to wander aimlessly through the woods without light.

Water is Your Top Priority

In the early hours, when you’re still trying to convince yourself that everything is going to be resolved quickly, you won’t want to confront long-term plans. That could prove to be a fatal delusion. You don’t want to wait until the cramps start before you start looking for water. Carefully ration out any water you have with you and begin looking intently for fresh sources. Boil any water you come across to avoid dangerous bacterial infections.

As with anything, your best tool in the face of adversity is preparation. Learn the difference between wild foods you can eat and those you cannot. Keep a survival kit with you whenever you go on even the shortest, safest nature hikes. Make a plan with your family or group about how to respond when someone gets lost. If nothing else, you’ll have peace of mind.