You turn a corner and everything begins to looks the same—from the rocks to the shrubs. Then you realize you haven’t seen a trail marker in over an hour. Your palms are drenched in sweat, heart is pounding beneath your chest, and a sudden pang of anxiety hits. Your worst fears are confirmed; you are officially lost hiking.
It happens to the most seasoned hiker—assuming you are on the right trail only to find out an hour later that you took a wrong turn. One single step could you lead in the wrong direction and worse, get you lost. Your first instinct may be to panic and fear the worst. But having read this post, you won’t have to worry. Instead you’ll be fully equipped to handle what may feel like the direst situations. Here are seven tips to get you back on track when you get off course while hiking.
Share Your Hiking Plan
Plan your hiking adventures in advance. This includes a set plan on when you will leave, which trail you are going to, how long you expect your hike to take, and what time you plan to be home. Once you have this plan in place, let a family member or close friend know your plan. Leave them with a copy of the trail map and the route you will be taking. Most importantly, stick to your plan. Don’t decide once you get there to try a different route you haven’t researched.
Don’t Go Further
It may be tempting to want to continue forward when you start to feel lost, after all what if you find your way back to the right trail? Most of the time, this doesn’t happen and you end up more lost than you were before. When you have an inkling you are lost stop. If you can’t comfortably or safely retrace your steps, stay put and call for help, if you have cell phone service.
When you realize you are lost, you will panic. Your heart will beat out of your chest, your palms will grow damp, and you’ll want to scream at the top of your lungs for help. As hard as it may be, try to remain calm. Take a few deep breaths, take a sip of water, and if you are with a friend, talk about something that does not revolve around getting lost. Instead, assess your surroundings—what made you realize you were going the wrong direction? Was it a compass? Did the trail suddenly disappear? Stop and think logically before making any rash decisions.
Make A Plan
Whether you feel comfortable retracing your steps back, wait for help, or choose to camp out overnight you need to come up with a plan. If daylight is quickly fading, it may be best to camp out overnight and wait for help. Hiking in the dark can be increasingly dangerous with the chance of getting even more lost, wandering into wildlife territory, or getting injured due to poor vision. If there is plenty of daylight left and you decide to retrace your steps, leave your mark behind (such as rocks or scraps of trash). You are given permission to litter in this case.
The first thing you should do when you realize you are lost on a trail is check for phone coverage. While the great outdoors sometimes prohibits our technology from working correctly, there are plenty of trails that do have cell phone service. If you find you are in the unfortunate situation where you don’t have service, use a whistle to try and attract attention to yourself. Three blows is the universal sign for help. Another way to attract attention is with bright items. If you have any bright items take them out, or better yet wear at least one piece of bright clothing anytime you hike. This makes it easier for a rescuer to find you.
When darkness falls, find a sheltered spot that will keep you as unexposed to natural elements like wind and rain. If you have extra layers in your backpack, take those out and wear them to avoid hypothermia. I’d also recommend investing in an emergency bag—reflective survival protection that can be used as a sleeping bag liner or a cover to increase thermal properties. Not only are emergency bags lightweight, affordable, and easy to carry, they are also windproof and waterproof. They can also save your life in dire situations, such as getting lost in the wilderness.
Pro Tip: Do not set up camp near a river as the noise may prevent you from hearing a rescuer.
Bring a Friend
There is a time and a place for a solo hike. For example, you may wake up at the crack of dawn on a Saturday and feel the urge to conquer a trail. Your friends are still nursing their hangovers in bed but you don’t want to miss out on taking a weekend hike. In this instance going alone is your only option. You’ll want to tackle a trail that experiences heavy traffic, is easy to follow, and in close proximity to your house.
A complex hike that is two hours away from your home that you’ve never hiked before is not the place for a solo hike. This is the sort of hike you’d want to bring a friend along on. A friend not only offers you companionship but is an extra brain to help you stay on track and keep you sane should you still happen to get lost. A friend is also an extra mouth for shouting, an extra set of eyes for seeing things you may have missed, or hearing things you may have not heard.
Pack the Right Food
No one plans to get lost on a hike. However, it does happen, which is why the need for such an blog post exists. Because this is a possibility anytime you set out for a hike it is important to be safe than sorry. This includes packing high calorie survival food in case you find yourself needing to camp out overnight until help arrives.
Survival food items, such as the S.O.S. Survival Food Bars, are packed with calories, vitalized, and not thirst provoking. They not only meet your nutrition needs but also keep you energized while squelching hunger, ideal for emergency food situations. Some are also relatively inexpensive so you won’t have to break your budget. They are also lightweight so they won’t weigh down your backpack.
Have you ever gotten lost hiking? Have any tips you’d recommend? Sound off in the comments below!