Nothing ruins a great hike like losing your way. One minute you’re off in search of stunning scenery and solitude, and the next you’re trying to find your way back to familiar territory (or even worse, hoping for rescue). It can happen to the best of us. Fortunately, a little preparation and mindfulness go a long way toward keeping your idyllic hike from turning into a stressful situation. Rebecca Oreskes, public services officer for the White Mountain National Forest and co-founder of hikeSafe (which educates hikers on safety in the outdoors) and Mohamed Ellozy, Appalachia’s Accidents editor, offer some helpful advice on the dos and don’ts when lost in the wilderness.
Don’t Start Out Unprepared “The first thing is not to get lost in the first place,” Ellozy says. “It’s much easier to stay found than to find a way out.” That’s why preparation is the key to avoid getting lost. “It’s important to learn the skills you need before getting out on the trail,” Oreskes says.
Learn to use a map and compass above all else. It’s also important to do pre-hike research so you are knowledgeable about where you are going. Consult guidebooks and talk with others to familiarize yourself with trail details, topography, and weather conditions. Lastly, make sure you have all the equipment and gear you need—both for the actual hike and in the event you have to stay out longer than planned.
Do Remain Aware Pay attention while hiking so that you will be more able to find your way back if you steer off course. “If you are deep in conversation or thought, you will miss important markers in your surroundings,” Ellozy says. Make a conscious effort to concentrate on trail junctions, river crossings, and familiar landmarks. Navigate every now and again with your finger on the map to get a sense of which direction you are moving in. Be aware of how long it should take to get to the next landmark or blaze and stop to evaluate your situation if you are off, Oreskes says.
|For more information, visit hikeSafe’s website.|
Don’t Strike Out Blindly “If you find yourself off the trail, don’t just muddle forward and keep moving in the hope of getting out,” Ellozy says. The moment you get a feeling that you are not on track, stop moving immediately to reevaluate your location.
Oreskes advocates following hikeSafe’s S.T.O.P. principle—Stop, Think, Observe, and Plan. The key is to stop moving and remain calm before making decisions. “The greatest tool we all have is our brains and it’s the first thing we lose,” she says. Think through where you went wrong and where the last blaze or landmark you passed was. Use your map and compass and observe the terrain for signs of something familiar. Retrace your steps and try to get back to your last known point. Consider all your options before selecting a plan and then stick to it. Frequently changing your plans will make it more difficult for rescuers to find you should they need to.
Do Make Rescue Easier It’s essential to always inform a family member or friend of your route before you head out so that rescue teams have a better chance of locating you quickly. If you reach a point where you are sure you cannot find your way back to the trail, stop moving again. “Human nature being what it is,” Ellozy says, “people will keep going until they can’t go anymore, but they should stay as close to their last known point as possible. The farther you are from the trail, the harder it will be for rescuers to find you.” Stay warm, hydrate, and protect yourself from the elements. Wear bright clothing to attract attention and keep visible if possible.
Don’t Take Experience for Granted “You are not an experienced hiker when you are not on a familiar trail,” warns Ellozy. Anyone can make mistakes, and no matter whether you are a beginning hiker or an experienced trekker, the dos and don’ts still apply every time you head out.