Lost in the Wilderness: A Survival Guide

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Being lost in the wilderness can be a frightening and overwhelming experience. However, staying calm and taking the right steps can help you get out of a difficult situation and get back to safety. In this blog post, we provide a survival guide with tips and strategies for staying safe and getting rescued if you find yourself lost in the wilderness. We also discuss how to prepare for the possibility of getting lost and the importance of carrying the right gear and learning survival skills.

Lost in the wilderness – important steps to take

The good news is that it is very difficult to get totally lost, i.e. to have no idea of your general position. Especially if you’re a good navigator or a seasoned hiker. However, sometimes even the most experienced hikers don’t pay enough attention to the route just because the route seems obvious or they think they have a good mental picture of the area or they are in a hurry. Yes, there is no shortage of reasons to get disoriented and it doesn’t happen exclusively to beginners. So what to do if you get lost in the wilderness?

Assess the situation and determine your location

First and foremost, it’s important to stop and assess the situation. Take a deep breath and try to remain calm to properly assess the situation. As long as you have a positive attitude, you needn’t worry. Panic can cause you to make poor decisions and can even be dangerous in a survival situation increasing accident potential. Next, try to determine your exact location. Look for any recognizable landmarks or features that can help you orient yourself and figure out where you are. If you have a map and compass, use them to help you get your bearings and plan a route home.

Hiker in the wilderness mountains
Try to stay calm if you get lost in the wilderness

Photo by Camotrek

Once you have a general idea of your location, it’s time to start thinking about how to get back to civilization. The best option is to try to retrace your steps to a point you recognize or can identify so that you get back on route. Another viable option, if you know the general direction of the nearest town, trailhead or road, is to start walking in that direction. If you don’t know which way to go and you are not in immediate danger, it’s usually better to stay in one place and wait for rescue than try to hike out on your own. Additionally, moving without direction during extreme weather conditions can be highly dangerous because you’ll be at risk of hypothermia. This can be a difficult decision to make, but wandering aimlessly can cause you to become even more lost and can put you in danger.

Find shelter and take care of yourself

While you are waiting for the rescue, focus on taking care of yourself. Try to find shelter and stay warm and dry. If you have an emergency shelter – great. If you have only a survival kit with you, use the items in it to help you stay comfortable and safe. A survival kit is a collection of essential items that are designed to help you survive in an emergency situation. These kits typically include items such as a knife, a fire starter, a first aid kit, and water purification tablets, among other things. The specific items included in a survival kit will vary depending on the situation and the individual using the kit, but the goal is always the same: to provide the user with the tools and supplies they need to survive until they can be rescued or make their way back to civilization.

A list of suggested items to include in your survival kit for hiking

The content of your survival kit can vary but there are some key items to consider:

  • Knife

A good, sturdy knife can be incredibly useful in a variety of situations, such as cutting rope, preparing food, or making tools.

  • Firestarter

A fire starter such as lighter or waterproof matches can help you build a fire for warmth, cooking, and signaling for rescue. Wind and waterproof storm matches are a perfect solution for bad weather. Another reliable heat source and good option suitable for any weather is a flint starter. The biggest advantage is the longevity of flint starters.

  • First aid kit

A first aid kit should include basic supplies for treating minor injuries, such as bandages, antiseptic, and pain relievers. We prefer to build up a custom first aid kit. But for those who don’t have the time or desire to do it on their own, there are all kinds of pre-assembled individual first aid kits (IFAKs). The most popular version is the traditional survival IFAK, but there are also emergency trauma kits for more serious injuries.

  • Water purification tablets

Water purification tablets can be used to make contaminated water safe to drink, which is essential if you are stranded without access to clean water.

  • Compass

A compass can help you navigate and determine your location, even if you are unsure of your surroundings.

  • Map

A map of the area you are hiking in can help you plan your route and identify potential hazards or landmarks.

  • Whistle

A whistle is another must-have in your survival kit for hiking and backpacking. It can be used to signal for help if you are lost or injured. Most people prefer using a traditional whistle for emergency signaling. However, there are other hi-tech options such as the Nitecore NW30 emergency whistle. It is super easy to use and combines an electronic whistle and a 2000-lumen beacon light. The cool thing is that you don’t have to manually blow the whistle saving you vital energy. Additionally, this whistle has an IP68 rating, which means that it’s sturdy and waterproof thus it can be used in all weather conditions.

  • Emergency blanket

An emergency blanket is a lightweight, compact item that can provide warmth and shelter in an emergency situation. It’s designed to help you retain 90% of your body heat preventing hypothermia, which can be life-saving. We highly recommend having a couple of these in your hiking pack just in case.

  • Food and water

It’s always a good idea to carry extra food and water with you on a hike, in case you are stranded for an extended period of time.

  • Flashlight or headlamp

A flashlight/headlamp can be useful for illuminating your surroundings and finding your way in the dark. Good headlamps usually come with a variety of lighting modes and are preferred by most outdoorsmen because of the hands-free experience.

  • Personal locator beacon

A personal locator beacon is a device that can be used to signal for help if you are lost or in trouble. It can send a distress signal to rescue teams, who can then locate you and provide assistance.

If you don’t have a survival kit, look for natural resources. For example, you can use leaves and branches to create a shelter or look for edible plants to eat. While it’s important to conserve your energy and avoid unnecessary exertion, do prepare for the night by finding shelter and building a fire.

Signal for help and wait for rescue

If you are unable to find your way back to civilization on your own, you may need to rely on rescue teams to find you. Remember that wandering around only increases the size of the search area. So, it is best not to move far unless in an immediate natural hazard. Each one of the following can be perceived as an immediate danger: lightning, wildfire, rockfall, avalanche, flash flood, etc.

Use a personal locator beacon to signal for help

If you have a personal locator beacon (PLB), use it to signal for help. A personal locator beacon is a portable device that allows an individual to call for help in case of an emergency. This device can send a distress signal to rescue teams, who will be able to locate you and provide assistance. It typically works by sending a distress signal to a satellite, which then alerts search and rescue teams to the location of the person in need of assistance. PLBs are often carried by hikers, climbers, and other outdoor enthusiasts to help them stay safe in case of an accident or other emergency situations. To use a personal locator beacon, you should activate the device and wait for help to arrive. It is important to note that PLBs are only intended for use in life-threatening situations and should not be used for non-emergency purposes.

Make yourself visible to rescue teams

If you don’t have a PLB, try to make yourself as visible as possible to rescue teams. Build a fire, if you can, and use it to signal for help. Look for an open area – a place that searchers may be able to see from the air. It’s preferable to build a smoky fire (burning rubber, as well as wet leaves or wood or pine branches, will generate smoke). The main aim is to draw attention so that the rescuers could see or smell it from a distance. Note that the flame is more visible at night whereas the smoke is more visible during the day. You can always extinguish it once it has served its purpose.

Building a fire in the wilderness can be an important survival skill to have if you get lost or stranded. There are several reasons why building a fire can be useful in these situations:

  • A fire can provide warmth, especially at night or in cold weather. This can help prevent hypothermia, which can be life-threatening.
  • A fire can provide light, which can help you see your surroundings and navigate your way out of the wilderness.
  • A fire can help you signal to potential rescuers. The smoke from a fire can be seen from a distance, which can help attract the attention of people who are looking for you.
  • A fire can help you cook food and purify water. If you have food and water with you, a fire can help you make them safe to eat and drink.
  • A fire can provide a sense of security and comfort. In a survival situation, a fire can help you feel less alone and more in control.
Fire in the woods
Knowing how to build fire is essential

Photo by arodsje

A mirror can reflect sunlight signaling to potential rescuers. Rescue mirrors are even better because they can have a sighting hole to let you focus on a target. You can also make noise by shouting, blowing a whistle, or banging on a pot.

One way to use a mirror to signal to potential rescuers is to hold the mirror in front of you and angle it so that it reflects sunlight or other sources of light. This can help attract the attention of potential rescuers who may be nearby and looking for you. Alternatively, you can use the mirror to flash Morse code signals by reflecting light in a series of short and long flashes. This can help you communicate with potential rescuers, even if they are too far away to see or hear you directly. To use this method, you will need to know the Morse code for the letters of the alphabet and numbers. You can then spell out messages using the flashes of light from the mirror.

How to prepare for the possibility of getting lost in the wilderness

In addition to these steps, there are a few other things you can do to prepare for the possibility of getting lost in the wilderness.

Carry the right gear

First, make sure you have the right gear with you to survive comfortably. Carrying the right gear for wilderness survival can help you stay safe and comfortable in the wilderness. Depending on the specific conditions you are likely to encounter on your trip, you may need to bring different types of gear. However, your equipment should include a map and compass, a survival kit, and a personal locator beacon or a whistle. If you are not among those used to navigating by the stars, consider bringing a GPS device as it can help you navigate your way through the wilderness.

Let someone know your plans

It is generally a good idea to let someone know your plans before going on a hiking trip, especially if you are going alone or in a remote area. This can help ensure that you have a way to get help if you encounter an emergency or become lost.

Here are a few specific reasons why it is important to let someone know your plans before going on a hike:

  • It can help rescue teams find you if you get lost or injured. If you have told someone your planned route and expected return time, they can alert authorities if you do not return as expected. This can help rescue teams locate you more quickly.
  • It can give you and your loved ones inner peace. Knowing that someone is aware of your plans can give you and your loved ones peace of mind while you are out on the trail.
  • It can help you get help if you have a change of plans. If you need to change your plans for any reason, letting someone know can help ensure that you have a way to get help if necessary.
  • It can help you get help if you have an emergency. If you have an emergency and are unable to call for help yourself, letting someone know your plans can help ensure that you receive the assistance you need as quickly as possible.

Learn survival skills and knowledge

Finally, make sure you have the skills and knowledge necessary to navigate and survive in the wilderness. This might include taking a wilderness survival course or practicing with a knowledgeable friend. There are also some great books about the basic skills necessary for wilderness survival.


Being lost in the wilderness can be a frightening experience, but staying calm and taking the right steps can help you get out of a difficult situation and back to safety. Remember to stop and assess the situation, try to determine your location, and take care of yourself while you wait for rescue. With a little luck and some careful planning, you can make it out of the wilderness and go back to civilization.


Related Articles

Backpacking Dangers

How to Plan a Hiking Trip

How to Light a Fire in the Wilderness

Coping with Various Terrain

How to Hike Safely in Bear Country

How to Camp Safely in Bear Country

Skin Problems on the Trail

Common Ankle and Foot Injuries


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