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What To Do If You Get Lost While Hiking

Aug 17, 2007
Ever have this feeling?: That tree looks a little familiar... or maybe not. Have you passed that bush already? Hey, where'd that rock come from? That wasn't there the last time. You could keep going, but the sun's sinking fast and it will be dark soon. Face it, you're lost.

You may have even had this experience happen to you, but you have always managed to find your course again with no problem. This time, though, the fear is nearly choking and it is not the situation you hoped you would be in. Relax. There are still a few things you can do to get your bearings again. Take a deep breath, clear your head and follow these steps.

First, it is very wise for you to take every precautionary measure you can to make sure you do not get lost in the first place. It does sound overly simple, but hikers often get lost due to poor planning. Be sure that you take a map with you. Make sure that it is an updated map, as trails and landmarks often change.

Bring two compasses with you. Many hikers have doubted their compass, so it is a good idea to have another one to compare it to. If they are both saying the same thing, trust them! If you have no prior experience with a compass, you can most likely find out all that you need to know at a local community center or outdoor store. Before you embark on your journey, you need to study a map of the area you will be traveling. Get to know the trails, streams, and mountains that will make up the land you are traveling.

It is also vitally important to tell someone you know that you are going to be hiking. This is important because it ensures that someone will notice your absence if you are lost for an extended period of time. You do not want to be missing without someone knowing that you are missing! Tell your family or friends exactly where you are going, and how long you plan to be there.

As you hike, take notice of all of the topography around you. Pay attention to ridges, summits, rivers, etc. These natural reference points just may end up saving your life. Again, make good use of your map and compasses. You have them, so use them. If you find yourself even the slightest bit unsure of where you are, access your map. Hikers often dig themselves a deeper hole by thinking that they can fix the situation on their own. Use the tools that you bring with you.

If you do find that you are becoming disoriented, stop. Take out your map and search your surroundings for a familiar landmark. Most of the time, people are able to regain their sense of direction by taking five minutes to study their map and surroundings. Five minutes is all it can take to prevent the situation from escalating into a more serious, dangerous matter.

If you have already tried backtracking to locate familiar landmarks and have had no success, S.T.O.P. - stop, think, observe and plan. Don't go any further and stay where you are. Getting distracted and changing your direction will only make things worse, so stay focused and calm. Panic will use up stores of energy that you might need later on.

If you have a whistle, blow it at timed intervals to alert rescuers. If you have to, start gathering materials for a rescue signal. At the very least it will keep you occupied and at the most you will have made something that rescuers could spot easily.

As with anything, the right amount of preparation, planning, and precautions will help you to avoid getting lost while hiking. If you do get lost, knowing what to do means you will have a better chance of being found or finding your way back. Prepare for the worst and hope for the best, as the saying goes. Knowledge is power and armed with that fact, you should have an enjoyable hiking experience.
About the Author
John Edmond runs and writes regularly for Living And Camping Outdoors where you can find more articles on hiking safely and outdoor survival. Also go to Well Spoken Audio for a range of entertaining audiobooks on walking and hiking and much more.
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