When venturing outdoors this spring and summer for a hike, swim, overnight camping, or even just a short nature walk, here are six essential tips that could possibly save your life.
1. Tell someone your plan.
Call, text, send email or leave a handwritten note with a family member or good friend detailing your plans. Tell them exactly where you are going, when you are leaving and when to expect you back. Aron Ralston, an experienced hiker, climber and mountaineer set out for a leisurely trip in Utah’s Canyonlands National Park. Nothing too serious planned, he left town without telling anyone where he was going or when to expect him back. A boulder slipped while he was climbing down Bluejohn Canyon pinning him there for six days. Read more of Aron’s story in “Survivor Stories Aron Ralston: “What am I Capable of?”
2. Take a Fully Charged Cell Phone
I know, I know. You are venturing outdoors to escape the tones, buzzes and alerts of your smart phone. However, in case you DO get lost, you will wish you had it. You can always keep it turned off until you experience an emergency. As long as your cell phone is receiving a wireless signal, it communicates its location every few seconds to the network. Whether active or not, your phone’s location can be pinpointed by using cell towers and your phone’s built-in GPS. As early as 2006, rescuers were using cell phone signals to locate missing people. Stranded in the Oregon wilderness, Kati Kim and her two children were found after Kim’s cell phone pinged local cell networks.
3. Stay Calm
If you find yourself lost, your immediate reaction might be to panic. However, panicking will lead to very poor decisions. As soon as you realize you have lost your way, stumbled off the path and have no idea where you are, sit down a minute and breathe slowly and deeply. Take some time to assess, think about your situation and next moves.
4. Know How to Orient Yourself
Carry a compass, map, GPS unit or all three and know how to use them. Take note of the direction from which you came and what direction you are headed. Bushnell’s basic Backtrack series of GPS units don’t cost a fortune and make it easy to backtrack to your starting point. If you cannot orient yourself, then stay put. When you don’t return, most likely there will be someone out looking for you. Staying put helps you be able to gather your wits, hunker down for the night and make it easier for rescuers to find you.
5. Signal for Help
Always keep a signaling device with you when venturing out. Noise and light both work. Typical signaling devices are signaling mirrors and a whistle. You can also use your flashlight to communicate an SOS signal. SOS is three short bursts, followed by three long bursts, followed by three short bursts. Pause between each series and then repeat. Fire and smoke is always a perfect signaling indicator. Make three fires set in a triangle pattern. This is the international signal for help. Alternatively, you may hang up a brightly colored piece of material, such as a bandana or flag to indicate your position. Your instincts will be to hunker down in a shelter. However, if you will be warm enough, try to stay in a clearing—it will be easier to see you from the air.
6. Bring Along a Basic Survival Kit
Even if you plan to be gone for a few hours, pack along basic survival gear in case you do get lost and need to procure water and stay warm over night.
- Bottled water and a filter
- Food, nuts, snacks or energy bars
- First aid kit
- Signaling device
- Compact emergency blanket
- Fire starter and tinder
For more in-depth articles on how to survive a night in the woods, read these blog posts:
- Surviving a Wilderness Trip Gone Wrong
- Hiking Survival
- Keep Your Bearings and Find Your Way in the Woods
- Avoid Getting Lost
- Purifying Water on the Fly: Safe Drinking Water in an Emergency
- How to Get Un-Lost Using a Compass
- Survival Saturday: Starting a Fire
- How to Use a Compass
- How to Survive a Cold Spring Night Outdoors When You Least Expect To
Have you ever gotten lost in the woods? Share your story with us in the comment section.