How to Survive Getting Lost in the Woods
IstockphotoYou know the trail was right there. But its gone now, and what started as a relaxing day hike now looks like a potentially serious situation. Do you know what to do? Les Stroud of Survivorman, the Discovery Channel hit show, helps us prepare for the worst.
Q: Whats the first piece of advice you would give someone in this situation?
A: I always tell women that they need to have their own pack with their own supplies. When Im doing trainings and a couple is there, Ill pull the woman away from the man and ask, “Can you get to whatever hes carrying right now?” Too often women rely on the men to carry items they could both need.
Q: So what does she need in that pack shes carrying?
A: Something that could provide shelter like a garbage bag, matches, a multitool—and make sure it has a knife with a sawblade on it—a small tin pot for collecting or boiling water, a compass, a watch, rope or cord, and a LUNA bar or something else to eat. And depending on how much you weight you want to carry, a lightweight jacket can be a great thing to have.
Q: Besides having those supplies, what else should she do before heading out on her hike?
A: The best thing you can do is talk with locals if its not an area that shes familiar with. From that, she can ascertain the potential dangers. In some areas storms can come on really quickly or the temperature can drop drastically at night. Wildlife or terrain can be an issue, too. Just make sure you know what the dangers are before you leave.
Also, always, always notify at least three people about where youre going and when you should be back and set up an emergency plan if you havent made it by then. Tell them, “If I dont call by this time, worry and find out where I am.”
- Next Page: What's the first thing you do? [ pagebreak ]
- Q: Whats the first thing to do once she realizes shes lost?
- A: First of all, accept the situation and realize you are lost. Usually people will fight reality, which doesnt help anything. Next, assess your situation—assess where you are and what supplies you have. Normally at that point you can, say, “Okay. I have shelter, I have food. Ill be okay.”
And now you can calm down. Once youve managed to do that, you can start making decisions. Should you hunker down or move? Well, it depends on the situation. You have to take a lot into account. If you know for sure that the highway is due east and you have your compass, then it would probably be a safe decision to move east. If youre badly injured and someone will be looking for you, you should most likely stay put. Consider all of the factors and make your decision from there.
Q: Okay, lets say that shes decided to hunker down. What now?
A: Your two concerns are shelter and warmth. Dont trust that youll have a dry night—set up shelter, and do it before it gets dark. You should ideally start getting ready an hour or two before the sun sets to give yourself plenty of time.
If youre going to be able to make a fire, gather as much firewood as possible. Once youve done that, look at your pile and get five times more than what you have. No joke. Thats how much youll need. Now take your bag and cord and fashion yourself a tent. If you can set up somewhere you can get out of the wind, thats ideal—wind is the biggest killer, so do what you can to get out of it.
Q: Any tips for her once night has fallen?
A: Remember that its the exact same place that it was during the day. That can be a big psychological help and keep away the night fears. Also, realize that youre not really going to sleep. If you get 20 minutes, thats a good night. And recognize that the sounds you hear sound really big, but almost everything you hear at night is probably a mouse or chipmunk. Little creatures sound big at night. Just try to remain calm and let the night pass.
Q: And the next morning?
A: Put your focus on being found. Make sure youre thoughtful of getting to open areas where you can be spotted. Evergreen boughs and birch bark both make a lot of smoke, so light one of those if you hear a plane. And remember that it will be easiest to see you the higher uphill you are.