When hiking, backpacking or camping, in some cases, you could become lost in the wild area (forest or woods) which is away from any civilization. Surviving in the wilderness requires certain skills and tricks and can be crucial for life-saving. Surviving alone in the wilderness also is a matter of common sense, patience and wisely making use of the resources which nature provides.
Maintain your psychological stability
The first thing you should consider when lost in nature is to remain calm. You should remain psychologically stable in this difficult situation. To achieve that successfully I recommend you to follow these directions:
- Don’t panic: Panic is the most dangerous emotions of all because it is capable of interfering with the proper function of your mind and can hinder your judgment. That is why, in the moment you realize that you are lost I advise you to stop, take a deep breath and stay calm. In order to avoid panic simply use the so-called STOP technique. STOP is actually an acronym which consists of four words:
S= sit down. Sit down and breathe with your belly. Drink some water and eat some food. In time you will calm down and your cerebral cortex will take over your decision making again.
T= think. Ask yourself several basic questions. Which direction were you heading? Do you recognize any landmarks? How long ago was that? What was the last time you knew your location?
O=observe. Try to observe the surroundings of any landmarks. Think about your condition and observe the weather. Try also to remember the weather forecast. Scout for a natural shelter, and dry fuel.
P=prepare. Prepare for survival by gathering materials.
- Think positively: Optimism can be your greatest asset in a survival situation like this. You should try to sustain a realistic outlook and carefully plan to keep yourself in the best possible physical and mental condition. If something does not work as planned, stop breathe and think about what are your needs.
If there is enough broad light you should try to retrace your steps. Try to spot your footprints and locate stones or rocks that you have moved when you have stepped on them. Leave obvious landmarks on your back route (like stone cairns, piles of branches) and so on.
Mark your current location which will become “a ground zero” using a piece of clothing, some rocks, a sheet of paper or any other object which is visible for a distance. Learn the basic directions. For example, knowing that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, use this as a tip to predict the main directions:
- For instance, if it is late afternoon and the sun is on your right side, you should be facing south.
- Learn how to spot the North Star in the sky. That can be a very valuable asset when you are lost. You can also use your watch to find the north direction.
If you are still unable to find your way just try walking downhill. In most of the cases, this will lead you to any signs of civilization. If you are unfamiliar with the area simply follow a water source downstream or find a clearing where you can produce a signal for help.
Maintain your position
Staying in one place will not only increase your chances of being found but also reduce the energy expenditure, but also the necessary amounts of food and water that you will need. Squat down and stay put. There are plenty of chances that someone will be looking for you.
If you are with someone else, you should not separate. If you stay together you will dramatically increase your chances of survival. It is also advisable to find a shade, in case the weather is too hot because by this way you will decrease your risk of dehydration and sunburn. Do not take off your clothes, as this will also increase these risks.
Start a fire
Building a fire will help you keep warm for many hours ahead. You should start a fire even if the weather is not yet cold enough. Fires are easier to make under good conditions than in hurry as the sun sets in. Not to mention, that with fire around it will be easier for you to get oriented. When building a fire you should have these tricks in your mind:
- Gather wood, so that you will have enough to spend at least one night
- Use a dry wood for your fire from the understory of the forest. You can also use bark from the trees or dried dung. If the fire is hot enough you can also burn green wood, brush or tree boughs making signals by creating a lot of smoke.
- The best fuel for maintaining your fire is dead wood.
- A small fire is easier to be kept burning than a big one because it requires less fuel. As soon as you have the sufficient embers, you should keep the fire to a manageable size. By this way, you won’t spend much time looking for wood fuel.
- The fire should be at a safe distance from trees and brush preferably in a clearing. Do not feed it too much, because it is a lot harder to survive in a forest fire than just being lost.
There are many methods with which you can start a fire. Some of them are:
- Start a fire with eyeglasses: In order to start a proper fire with this method, you will need a pair of far-sighted eye-glasses. Spit on the lens then use them to collect the sun’s beams to a pile of kindling. Wait a few moments until the kindling heats up enough and begin to smolder. Blow carefully the fire to start the flame.
- Start a fire with a bottle of water: The same principle with the eyeglasses can be used to start a fire with a bottle of water. The sun’s rays are focused through the water so that a single point of heat is created.
- Start a fire with a cell phone battery: Starting a fire with the above two methods requires a lot of sunshine. Nevertheless, it is possible that you won’t have always that luxury. If you have a lithium battery, then it will be possible for you to create a spark by connecting the positive and negative terminals. You can do that with steel wool, knife or any conductive material.
- Start a fire with sticks: this is the hardest method for making a fire. It has been used by people since ancient times. When using this method, you should quickly roll a stick on a log and with the help of friction create fire. Nevertheless, this could take a decent amount of time, nearly an hour or so.
If you are planning a hike or camping trip it can pay to prepare before you go. You may want to bring some waterproof matches and a good lightweight hiking, backpacking & camping hatchet, even if you do not think that you will need to make a fire.
Find a good source of water:
Do you know that an average person can last up to three days without water? Nevertheless, if you are without water even for 2 days you will not feel so well. That is why you will need to find water before then. The best option for you will be to find water from a spring. The chance for that although are very slim. If you have trouble finding water a few simple facts can be of great value for you:
- Follow grazing animals or birds because they are often attracted by a source of water.
- Mosquitoes and other flies tend to fly within 400 meters from water
- Water from some streams can cause some sicknesses. Despite that, in a life-or-death situation, the risk of illness is justifiable anything you may get maybe treated later when you return. It is better to survive dying of thirst than worry about water-borne diseases.
- You may collect the dew in the field and use it as potable water. For the collection process, you will need an extra piece of cloth running it through the grass as you walk.
- Stagnant water is in most cases is not suitable to drink
Purify the water:
A traditional method to purify your water is simply to put it in some sort of pot and boil it for a few minutes. You must boil the water for at least three minutes just to make sure that all the microbes are killed. Another method for water purification is to put water in a plastic bottle and then leave it in the hot sun for six hours. This can kill many of the microorganisms but is not perfect.
If there is sediment in the water and the sun cannot penetrate it this method won’t work.
So if you are planning a hike or trip to a remote location you can bring a personal water filter and use that to make any water you find drinkable. I recommend the LifeStraw Personal Water Filter. You can buy it here.
Find or build a shelter:
If you can’t find a proper shelter you will be exposed to the elements and there is a high risk that you can suffer from hypothermia or heatstroke. If you are not wearing the proper clothes finding a shelter will be your utmost priority. Luckily the woods are teeming with resources for making shelters or fires. Here are some of them:
- Search the area for a fallen or leaning tree. Using it, you can build an A-frame shelter by stacking branches to both of its sides.
- Use the green branches to keep the water away, block the wind or create a shade.
- Caves can provide you with a perfect shelter. Nevertheless, you should make sure that it is not occupied by bears, large cats or other unfriendly animals.
- If there is snow around, then you should consider building a snow cave. Snow is an excellent insulator and will keep you very warm.
- Do not make your shelter in such a way that it will be difficult to locate because by this way it will be hard for you to be found.
- Built your shelter more like a “bed”. By being isolated from the ground (which saps body heat) you can avoid hypothermia. For “bedding” material you can use some pile of leaves.
Find a proper food
Do you know that a healthy normal person can survive about three weeks without food? You should be very careful while choosing your food. If you by chance happen to consume inedible food you can become very ill which in turn will reduce your survival ability.
Experts recommend some plants which are edible:
- Acorn from oak: The entire acorn is edible and can easily be stored
- Pine: The nuts and inner bark are edible. Pine is also ideal for preparing a pine needle tea.
- Cattail: Its stalk is like celery. The root and the tuber are suitable for making flour. Its pollen is also very healthy.
- Grass: The corm is starchy and edible. It is also very rich in carbohydrates and water.
Here are some other tips you should follow when choosing your food:
- You should not be scared about eating insects or other bugs. Grasshoppers are especially nourishing. You should cook all insects before eating because they can be infested with parasites. You should not also eat any caterpillars, brightly colored insects or such that may sting or bite you. Before consuming the insect, you should take care to remove its legs, head, and wings.
- If you are near water, consuming fish can be a great choice.
- You should not eat any mushrooms or berries which you see in the forest. That is because some of them (especially the white ones) can be poisonous.
Thinks to take to increase your chance of survival
Being prepared in advance can help your chance of survival. Here are some things that I recommend that you get and take with you when you are in the great outdoors, just in case you need them.
- waterproof matches
- lightweight camp hatchet or lightweight camping hand saw
- water purifier
- compact compass
- emergency whistle
As we can see from the following article surviving in nature requires much specific expertise and knowledge. The above-mentioned techniques could be of great use to you if you by chance get stranded and lost in nature. Knowing and following them can get you safely out of any number of difficult situations.