Wilderness Survival Skills: When You’re Lost in the Woods
It’s easy to be thrust into a survival situation; go fishing, take a walk in the woods, a Sunday afternoon drive and all of the sudden, you find yourself stranded. What started out as a time for relaxation and enjoyment suddenly turns into a wilderness survival situation.
The question is; are you ready?
Do you have the knowledge you need for a wilderness survival situation and have you brought the equipment along to help you survive? This isn’t the time to look up that information; it’s time to take action. You have to be ready or you just might not make it.
Before You Go
Before you leave for that walk in the woods, it’s always a good idea to let someone know where you are going, the route you are planning on taking and when you expect to be back. That way, if you don’t return or contact them when you are expected to, they can raise the alarm about you being overdo. Knowing where you are gives officials and rescuers a much better chance of finding you.
Also, make sure you take at least a basic survival kit along. There are lots of different ideas about what that survival kit should include, but at a minimum, it needs to have some means of providing you with the basic necessities of wilderness survival; shelter, water, food and fire. In a pinch, you can do without the food for a couple of weeks.
There’s one other thing you need; that’s a means of calling out for help. Your cell phone might be able to help you with this, but only if it is charged and you are in an area where you have a signal. A spare battery pack might be worthwhile to carry around too.
But don’t just count on your cell phone. A whistle is a great means of calling for help. The other old standby is a signal mirror. Airplanes ten miles up in the air can catch the glint off of your mirror, allowing the pilots to pinpoint your location and pass it on to searchers.
When You Realize You’re Lost
Once you realize you are lost, stop. Before running off and making the situation worse, you need to take stock of your situation. What do you have with you that you can use for wilderness survival? How much daylight is left? What’s the weather like? Are there any landmarks you recognize? Do you have any cell phone signal?
If you have cell phone signal, you should contact someone as quickly as you can and tell them you are lost, as well as whatever other information you can, which will help rescuers find you. Make your report clear, quick and organized, as you may not be able to contact them again. If your phone has GPS and you can get coordinates off of it, then tell them the coordinates you are at as well.
In most cases, you’re better off allowing rescuers to find you, rather than trying to find your way back out of the woods. So, unless you have a pretty good idea of where you are (which would mean that you’re not lost) or it has been several days and they haven’t found you, don’t try walking out.
When the sun goes down, it’s going to get colder. Even in the summertime, the temperature can drop enough to cause you to have hypothermia, especially if you are wearing wet clothes. So, if it is less than two hours to sunset, basic wisdom of wilderness survival states that it’s time to establish camp, right there where you are.
You can easily estimate the time till sunset by measuring the height of the sun above the horizon. Extend your hand and place the edge of your pinky on the horizon. Each finger’s width that the sun is above the horizon is approximately 15 minutes.
If you have more than two hours of time, you can try to locate some water. Setting up camp near water will save you from having to move camp the next day to find it. But don’t set your camp up right at the water, as that will deny it to the animals living in the woods. Instead, set up camp about 100 feet uphill of it. That’s close enough to give you access, but far enough to keep you from scaring the animals off.
Setting up camp basically means two things, building a shelter and building a fire. There are many ways of building shelters in the woods, but the easiest is to take shelter under a pine tree, if there are large pines you can use. There will be space under the lower branches, enough to sit up in, even though the tips of the branches might be brushing the ground. Clean out branches and debris, pile leaves around the base and you have a shelter.
Fire is necessary for several wilderness survival purposes. It will provide you with warmth, light, and protection. Most animals won’t go near a fire, so as long as you have a fire burning, you don’t have to worry about wild animals bothering you. But be careful that your fire can’t get out of control and turn into a forest fire.
Besides keeping yourself warm and drinking plenty of water, your biggest responsibility while waiting for rescue is to signal the rescuers. That means using your whistle and signaling mirror. Blow the whistle all day long, with pauses to listen for anyone crying out. Typically, the whistle can be heard much farther than the sound of a human voice, no matter how loud.
If you still have power and signal for your cell phone, use it occasionally to give update reports on your condition. Don’t leave it on all day though, as the battery will go dead. Then it won’t help you at all. Remember, text messages can get through at times when voice calls can’t.
If You Have to Walk Out
If you haven’t been rescued in three days, chances are that you will need to walk out. The easiest way to find your way out of any woods is to go downhill. Wherever you are, there will be roads downhill, if you go down far enough. Just keep going until you find a road or community and then ask for help.