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.

  • David C. Telliho

    I always try to look behind me every so often, because the trees look different on the other side, I was lost once in canoe boundary area. I just sat down & reasoned it out. Time lost….about 10 min. Then it was such a nice place,I stayed awhile before walking out. Good grief, beaver dams all over the place. But landmarks stood out.

  • Steven Davidson

    Prevention from getting lost is best. You should always have a daypack with these items: compass, trail map, water, ca ouple energy bars, emergency blanket, whistle, knife, and smart phone. A 3 liter camelback only weighs 6 pounds and the other item’s weight are negligible. You get the idea. Know how to use a compass and orienteering. You can download topo maps for free to your smart phone before heading out. Providing you have a good signal, you can use GPS/Google maps too. This is not rocket science. If you do not have these skills and do dot have these simple provisions, do not venture off the trail. Rookie mistake. Curious and like adventure? Be smart, be prepared.

  • Wes Tipton

    We hear about people all the time who go hiking unprepared because it was just a short ‘day’ hike. They don’t bring water or a warm jacket or a first aid kit, so when they do become disoriented they have no idea how to handle the situation. I think people put too much value on cell phones these days which of course often do not work in the heavy woods or mountains.
    Time to charge these people for the time and dollars it takes to rescue them since it happens constantly and they all seem to be ill prepared and clueless.

  • Agostino

    If you wear an old-fashioned wristwatch, the analog kind, the kind with hands instead of just numbers, you can use it as a compass. Look it up.

  • RCQ157@yahoo.com

    Don’t get lost in the woods take some Florissant orange or yellow spray paint with you and spray trees and objects showing your path into the woods with an arrow mark showing how you entered and the way out to your car or truck. Also make sure to take a friend with you to help paint the area in and out.

  • disqus_HfhrqRHjlE

    Should always carry a whistle and a good flashlight.