How To Survive And What To Do When You Get Lost In Hiking


It is hard to plan if you get  lost while hiking. Confusing and terrifying it can be, particularly if you are somewhere unfamiliar and don't know where to begin looking. If you find yourself lost in hiking, it is helpful to keep your wits about you and take advantage of these tips to ensure that you remain safe while getting back home.

What you should know first to avoid getting lost.

Getting lost is not at all fun and the best way to avoid it is to take precaution. There are many ways to avoid it. First, always tell someone where you are going. This can be a friend, a family member or a loved one. It doesn't matter as long as someone knows your whereabouts. Be sure to give them all of the necessary information: where you are heading, what time you will begin your hike, what trail you will be following, how many people are going, when you will return, and what kind (brand, make, color) of vehicle you will be using and parking at the trailhead. The logic is, if something bad would happen or you did not return to the said date, they'd know exactly where to find you first and might even rescue you at the most needed time. Second, make sure that you understand the rules of the area of where you are heading. Every hiking trail is unique and different from the other, knowing what to do and what to not do for each area is essential. It is also a good idea to check with a local ranger to discuss trail conditions. He or she may be able to provide you with valuable information such as what animals dwell within the area, the danger and hazard zones, and what trail to follow. Lastly, bring a map with you so that you will have a general idea of where you are going, and know what trails to follow. You might also want to bring a compass just in case your map gets wet or gets damaged during the trip.

Gear that is important to bring.

Having the right gear is another way to ensure that you are prepared for any scenario of when you'll get lost. 

  • Make sure you have the appropriate maps. Read and understand them before going on your hike.
  • Bring and learn how to use  a compass. Still, a lot of people would suggest using your device's GPS system, but always remember that these gadgets have a limited lifespan for their batteries. 
  • Pack a little more food and water than what you normally need. This is very important especially if you are hiking alone or are not familiar with the area.
  • Having the appropriate clothing and right hiking boots and understanding the layering system is a must. 
  • Headlamp/flashlight, matches/flint , small knife, first aid kit, and any other survival items you might need. Also, having extra garments and lightweight blankets might come in handy.

These are a few tips to consider while hiking that can make it easier to find your way back.

  • Take pictures. Not only do they create good memories but they also provide valuable information of where you've been through your trail. 
  • Always look for landmarks that are easily identifiable.
  • If you are the type to still worry about getting lost, a great idea is to mark your trail with items such as a pile of sticks or stones. It would be easy for you to follow your way back as you have these reminders along the way. Just don’t forget to destroy them to avoid disrupting the natural habitat.

What to do when you are, indeed, lost.

If with a hint of bad luck or happenstance, you get lost while hiking: 

  • As soon as you notice that you are lost. Stop moving and stay calm. It is important that you don't panic and try to orient yourself.  
  • Remember and try to retrace your mind of the steps and landmarks. If you have photos taken during your hike, check them and try to assess where these photos are taken within the trail. 
  • Check your surroundings for valuable information. Always stay on the trail. Retrace your steps as much as possible to avoid getting lost even more.
  • Organize your thoughts and think out your strategy on how to find your way back. If your trail has a body of water, find and follow it downstream, remember that water flows downhill towards the ocean. If you are hiking in an area where there are two or more rivers, follow the river in the direction which goes toward higher ground. Rivers going through mountains meander a lot, so following a river upwards keeps you on higher ground and will be able to see better where you are situated. If you have a map, then try to set yourself, but be sure to pace off distances when doing so. If you have no map or are unable to pace off distances, try following the terrain contours, since they roughly follow the majority of roads and manmade structures. Also remember to stop and ask locals for directions once you reach a town or city. Don't bother with making signs as it may attract unwanted attention like wild animals or hostile people. 

Things you need to know if you’ll wait for the night.

  • Always find a shelter. Find a safe place for you to stay for the night. This can be a natural made area but offers protection from any wind and rain. Note that it is easier to do this before the sun sets. Refrain using caves. They may look to be  the best place to camp for the night, but it is the opposite. You are unsure of the integrity of the cave’s walls and there is a chance a slight movement of the ground would bury you alive. Wild animals such as snakes or bears might live inside and pose a great threat. 
  • It is very important to wear extra layers of clothing to prevent hypothermia. If no extra clothing is available, try to improvise while the sun is still up, dry leaves and thick grass are a great way to insulate your makeshift bed.
  • Starting a small fire can help you keep warm and offer protection to wild animals. The smoke can also signal rescuers of your location. Just be cautious and be sure to control the fire to prevent forest fires from igniting.

How to survive until you are found.

  • Stay warm and always keep yourself dry. Conditions in the backcountry will always take a 180 between hot or cold, so it is paramount to regulate your temperature. Prevent unnecessary sweating in hot weather to keep your clothes from soaking in your sweat.
  • Ration your energy and avoid fatigue, for this will only lead to an uneasy mind and result in poor decisions.
  • Remember to hydrate and prevent thirst. We humans can survive for up to 3 weeks without food but only 2-3 days without water. It is important to focus on finding a hydration source. One tip is to collect dew from leaves early in the morning.
  • Stay away from sharp objects to avoid being wounded. If you have open wounds or a small cut to the skin, clean them up properly to contain infection and prevent them from worsening.
  • Your body requires energy from food as you move along, try to survive and think. Eventually your body will weaken. Find a food source to continually provide an intake in calories. This can be edible wild berries, fish, grubs that are high in protein, or mushrooms.
  • Lastly, do not give in to loneliness and fear. More than anything else, do not give in to these two. This will only lead to you being hysterical and depressed. As long as you have informed someone or somebody about your trip, help is on the way. Be positive. Keep yourself busy with daily tasks and focus on how you would survive through the day, until found.

No one really likes to get lost while hiking or camping. But foremost knowledge on what to do when you ever get to the situation of being lost is a valuable advantage and can even save you from certain death. Follow our tips and strategies. Happy hiking!

Back to blog

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.