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What To Do When Lost

Your essentials should include:

  • Plenty of food and water for the expected length of time.
  • Learn how to read a compass and use it! Do not rely on any digital advice that requires service, this will not help you when deep in the woods. 
  • Appropriate up to date maps. Study the terrain and your planned route all in advance. Know where you are going and how you will return.
  • Reliable hiking boots, clothes that you can layer depending on the weather conditions and an extra pair of socks just in case the ones you are wearing get wet.
  • Flashlight, blanket, matches or other forms of fire starters, kept in a water-resistant container, and other items that will help you survive multiple nights if necessary.
  • Check with the local ranger district office for warnings, such as fires in the area, bear sightings, flooding, trail or road closures, etc.

Never leave without telling anyone. Once planned, tell someone about your trip. Give them the exact details of where you are going, the trail you plan to follow, when you will return, the vehicle you are driving (and where you plan to park) and how many people will go with you – do not go alone.

If you do become lost your most important tool is your mindset, maintain an optimistic mind and do not panic, panicking is your greatest enemy.


  • As soon as you realize you may be lost: stop, sit down and stay calm.

Think it over:

  • Retrace your steps and go over in your mind how you got to where you are. What landmarks should you be able to see? Do not get up and move unless you are positive you know which direction you should be heading.


  • Do not walk aimlessly. Get out your compass and determine the directions based on where you are standing. 
  • If you are on a trail, stay on it. All trails are marked with signs and diamond blazers or maker. Signs are sometimes vandalized or stolen and are not always reliable. 
  • As a very last resort, follow a drainage or stream downhill. This is often difficult path but could lead to a trail or road. Again, this could be very dangerous and is your last option.


  • Based on your thinking and observations, come up with some possible plans, act on one of them after thinking it through completely. 
  • If you are not absolutely convinced of your new plan, sit back down and think it over or come up with a new one. 
  • If it’s nightfall, you are injured or you are near exhaustion, stay in place.

Self-rescue tips:

If after careful planning and consideration you decide to rescue yourself, here are some tips to remember:

  • Stop and rest when you start to become fatigued. Do not wait until you are exhausted.
  • Rest during and after eating. Rest in the shade for at least 30 minutes when you stop to eat. If you are still tired after 30 minutes, continue to rest.
  • Stay Hydrated. Symptoms of dehydration include feelings of irritation and frustration and more tiredness than warranted.
  • Stop for any amount of pain. Do not ignore any form of pain or illness, the pain or illness will only get worse and make it more difficult to recover.

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