Find a Trail

Lost and Found


No one ever heads out into the woods thinking that they will get lost. But every year, news reports of missing hikers abound. While whole courses are offered on wilderness survival, there are a few simple things to keep in mind if you ever get stuck on the trail. First, always plan ahead and carry the ten essentials with you. These will come in handy if you have to hunker down for an extra night. Also, make sure that someone knows where you are hiking and when you are supposed to be back, so when you don’t show up the authorities will be alerted. Hopefully you never have to use this information, but it’s always good to be prepared.

If you find yourself lost in the woods -- or just can’t make it back to the car before dark -- you don’t want to walk around trying to find a way out. Many lost hikers do this, and they tend to walk in circles while tiring themselves out. If you really are lost, it’s best to stay in one spot and wait for search and rescue.

Your first priority should be warmth. Hopefully you have packed some layers, but you can also maintain heat by curling up in a fetal position. Piling up “duff” -- fallen leaves and grasses – can add insulation much like a sleeping pad, and is a smart idea. Aim for about a foot or more of duff to lie on. Also, stay out of the wind and rain; find protection behind a tree, rock, or other protected place.

After warmth, your next priority is water. You can only go a few days without water. Water collects in valleys in mountains and potholes in canyons. If you don’t see any water, look for birds, which like to congregate around water, and are a great clue for where it can be found.

Although it may be difficult, make sure you get some rest. Without sleep, you are more likely to make mistakes and take unnecessary risks. And don’t be too worried about food. You can go for more than a week without food, so you should be picked up by search and rescue well before food is ever an issue. Taking risks to get food, like eating mushrooms and risking slipping while chasing a squirrel, are likely to cause more trouble than do good.