How To

    What to Do If You Get Lost on a Hike

    Getting lost while on a hike can be an incredibly stressful experience. It’s what makes it so much harder for people to stay calm and remember simple guidelines that will help improve their chances of being rescued or finding their way back.

    If you find yourself lost on a hike, then try to remember the following bits of advice. Plan in advance, tell others where you’re going, pack the essentials, and if you get lost, just stop.

    Plan In Advance

    While we will focus on what to do if you do get lost later on in this article, it’s important to note that your best tool for survival will be your skill of planning in advance.

    Before heading out on a hike, you need to ensure you are well prepared. Even if you’re only going on a short walk for a few hours, it’s always best to plan ahead and pack some essentials that will help you in case you get lost outdoors.

    The following ten items are also known as the “10 essentials” – they’re the basic tools you will need to help you survive.

    1. Food
    2. Water (and purification)
    3. Pocketknife
    4. Map and compass
    5. Matches/lighter
    6. Headlamp
    7. First Aid Kit (including whistle)
    8. Sunglasses/sunscreen
    9. Extra clothes
    10. Raincoat

    You should have more than enough with you to keep you hydrated and fuelled for the time you plan to be away. These days, you can also add a few tech essentials to the list. These include a GPS tracking device, a personal locator beacon, or a GPS app on your phone.

    Be sure you know how to use all of your essentials before heading for your hike. You need to properly know how to read a map, including the contours, identifying valleys and mountains, as well as use the compass. This advice may seem obvious, but you would be surprised at how many novices don’t know how to use these properly.

    Tell Others Where You Are Going


    Even if you’ve done this hike before, you should always be prepared. That includes telling other people where you are going. Once you have decided on your route, make sure you tell someone of your plans.

    Tell them precisely where you plan on heading off to, which trail you will be taking, and how long you expect to be away. You should never go alone, so be sure to mention how many people are going, the vehicle you’re driving, and where you plan to park.

    The more information you give, the easier it will be to get the help you need in case of an emergency. To make things simpler, you can even use apps such as HikerAlert.

    It may seem a tad unnecessary, especially for a short trip, but if search and rescue agencies receive information within hours, rather than days, the chances of a positive outcome greatly increase. Leaving behind a copy of your trail route could prove invaluable. Put the odds in your favor.

    On Your Hike


    Try to get an early start if possible, as the more daylight you have ahead of you, the better. As you’re hiking, be sure to regularly look at your map and match any landmarks you pass with those in the real world.

    Take note of how long paths are taking you and be sure to take plenty of pictures. Besides serving as a nice memento, they could also provide you with valuable information if you do get lost. Looking back at photographs may help you to find your way back.

    If You Do Get Lost

    Even if you’ve done all the necessary planning, things can still go wrong. Getting lost is scary, so it’s understandable if you start to feel panicky. Being told not to panic doesn’t exactly help, but while you may find it difficult to avoid feeling this way, the trick is to let this feeling pass.

    If you find yourself lost in the great outdoors, remember this useful acronym; STOP.



    Stop. You realize you are lost, and you start to feel that overwhelming sense of panic. Now is the time to stop. The last thing you want is to end up getting yourself even more lost. So, take a moment, sit down and take long, deep breaths. Have a drink, something to eat, and try to compose yourself so you can start thinking rationally again.

    Think. The next step is to take some time to think and answer some basic questions. What was the last landmark you remember seeing and when? How far have you traveled since then? Which direction were you going?

    Observe. Now take a look around and see if you recognize anything. Can you spot any familiar landmarks? Can you locate what you see on a map? Now is a good time to get your camera out and look through the pictures. See if these help you form a better idea of where you are.

    You should also consider the time and think about how long you’ve been hiking and how long you have before sunset. Take note of the weather conditions and think back to the predicted conditions. Look out for natural shelter and dry fuel to help you get a fire going.

    If you’ve got a phone on you, check to see if you can make a call or send out a text. Would you be able to tell anyone where you are? Try and collect what information you can to relay back. Of course, you should not rely on your phone, since you are unlikely to be able to get through to anyone if you are out in the wild.

    Plan. It can be tempting to start moving and try to find your way back. Don’t set off without a plan. Depending on how much daylight you have left, you may want to hold off on trying to retrace your steps and build a fire instead. Try and think logically and take your time to make a plan.

    If you decide to start moving, take great care and be observant. When trying to retrace your path, you should be extra vigilant and look out for anything that may signal you’ve been there before. Try and leave a distinct landmark behind along your path, whether it’s a small pile of branches or rocks.

    If it’s starting to get dark, then it’s best to stay put. You’ll need to make sure you get warm, so now is the time to put on those extra layers you hopefully packed and get a small fire going. Look for natural shelter to provide you with some protection from the rain and wind. Get some food and water in you and try to get some rest.

    Once morning comes, you can reassess your situation and come up with an appropriate plan of action. Try to get back to a known location, but if you’re struggling, try to make your position well known by blowing your whistle or building a visible signal. At the end of the day, try and use your common sense.

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