Buffer

What to do if you become lost while hiking?

Elvis Elvis

If you become lost do you know what to do? The following tips can help you in the event you become lost.

* Try to always be prepared for the unexpected. What if I get injured? Delayed? Lost? Am I prepared to handle any and all of these situations?

* Get a compass. If you have one already that’s great, but do you know how to use it? If you don’t have one, select an inexpensive, beginner’s model. Prices start around $15.00

*Be sure to know basic map and compass navigation skills. There are some terrific books available as well as navigation classes you can take.

*Perhaps a friend really knows how to use a map and compass. Ask them to show and teach you how to navigate using them.

*Get a map of your intended trip and study it before you go. Becoming familiar with your trail and route ahead of time will make things much easier if you become lost and need to think under pressure.

Some additional items to consider might include:

*Cell phone : Most backcountry terrain blocks the signal needed for your phone to work. If you happen to be close enough to a city or cell tower then your phone may work high up on an open ridgeline.

*GPS : These are great for identifying where you have already traveled. Your electronic bread crumbs! If you are going to purchase a GPS consider getting one with a built in compass feature. Knowing which direction you are moving is essential for backcountry navigation.

* Glow stick or Chemical light : Could be helpful by making you easier to spot at night.

What to do if you become lost while hiking?

*Important* – Let someone know where you are going and when you plan to be back. Also let them know what your intended route is. If you do become lost, people knowing this information can greatly enhance the search parties ability to locate you.

Additional Tip : Make a photocopy of your map with your route highlighted. Give this to a friend or relative. Make a second copy and leave it under the seat of your vehicle at the trail head. People searching for you might look through your car and find this helpful info. Be sure to let your friend or relative know if your plans change!

During your Hike

Be prepared. Some extra food, spare light and a pencil are good things to add to your pack. Consider a space blanket, could be useful in an emergency situation.

*Periodically check you map and identify your current location on you map. Understand how the markings on the map actually apply to your surroundings.

* If you are traveling in a group, STAY TOGETHER. Splitting up is an easy way for someone to get lost.

* Be sure and add a whistle to your 10 ESSENTIALS kit. If you need to signal because you have become lost or injured a whistle works much better than your vocal chords. 3 blasts of a whistle is the universal signal for help.

* Be sure to have a watch. Knowing when the sun sets and what time of year you are hiking can be important factors. Hikers who are not yet accustomed to the Fall daylight savings, often over estimate the amount of daylight they have

If you do become lost

Remember this acronym: S-T-O-P Stop, Think, Observe, Plan

* Stop : If your situation doesn’t seem right then STOP. Don’t panic. If you feel as though you might be lost, stay put. This rule changes if the area is unsafe or if medical attention is needed. Try to collect yourself. Drink some water and eat some food. Doing this often gives someone a fresh perspective on the situation.

* Think : At what point where you last certain of your position? Can you navigate back to that point on the trail? Was it a trail junction? A stream crossing? Are there landmarks you can see or hear to help you identify your current position? Can you get back to those spots? Take control of your situation.

* Observe : Concentrate on the trail you came in on. Picture any distinctive features you spotted as you came to your current position. Can you use these features to bring you back to a point where you know where you are? If you can, do so. If you cannot then just stay put. It is easier for searchers to find you if you are not wandering around. Make note of the weather and how much light you think is left in the day.

* Plan : Talk over a plan with your group. If the plan makes good sense then follow it. If it seems to be making things worse then use S-T-O-P again and improve your chances. If you are certain that you are near a baseline object such as a major road then consider bushwhacking to it. Do so only if you are certain of the direction of this object or landmark.

Final Considerations

* If you make contact with the outside world via cellphone, radio, or by other means, describe your position and your route as best as you can. After you request help, STAY PUT. Unless it is unsafe to do so. Batteries for any communication device should be considered emergency equipment so don’t waste them.

* If you make a request for a rescue it could take several hours for them to reach you. Be patient, and appreciative of the volunteer’s coming to your aid. It takes time to organize the rescue team and to locate your hiking group. Remember, STAY PUT.

* If possible position yourself in a clear area away from trees. This will make you more visible from the air. Consider laying out bright colored items, such as your pack or rain gear. These items will make an eye catching contrast to the surrounding and aid in locating your position.

* If you end up spending the night, don’t camp near rushing water. The sound of the water might block out the voices of the rescuers looking for you.

* If you use some kind of makers on your trip, be sure to remove them as you leave. They could confuse future travelers.


I truly hope you never become lost. Sometimes, even with the best of intentions, bad things happen. Think ahead of time and be ready, just in case. The information here is good, sound advice from experts. Remember, the best tool you have is between your ears.

Having your own 10 Essentials kit can go a long way in helping you with a bad situation. You can put together your own personal kit with items from BackcountryStore.Com . A reputable outfitter we highly recommend.