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How to Avoid Getting Lost

And what to do if you are lost. Plus, plenty of tips for getting found and preventing it from happening.

by John

GETTING LOST National news has been excessively saturated with stories of lost Boy Scouts this year and I used to be one of them. As a miniaturized Boy Scout (I didn’t hit a growth spurt until my senior year of high school) I got lost 4 times, twice on the same trip.

On one trip our entire Boy Scout troop of 16 people split up in three groups and all took the wrong trail. Losing your way happens, especially when you are young and it usually turns out well if you are prepared.

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Prevention—Before You Go

1. Before the trip, talk about getting lost and what everyone should do if it happens.

2. Make sure everyone who is backpacking has a map of the area and a clear understanding of where you’ll be going and how to get back.

3. Tell a friend or family member exactly where you plan to be on each day of your trip and when you will arrive home (don’t forget to check in when you get back).

Prevention—On the Trail

1. If you’ve been hiking a while, fatigue can make your thoughts fuzzy. Always pay attention to make sure you are on the right trail.

2. If possible stay in groups of at least 3 or more.

3. When you are in remote areas like backpacking always keep essentials like a knife, matches, and something shiny (like a signal mirror) with you.

4. Consider keeping other gear like food, water and clothing with you in case you do become lost.

What to Do if You Are Lost

1. Stay calm and evaluate whether it is best to move or stay put.

2. If you have not been lost very long, trace your steps back as far as you can until you find a sign, or a trail where you can reorient yourself.

3. If it is getting dark, stay put, build a fire and focus on staying warm.

4. Stay near open areas so you will be more visible to air rescue.

5. Build a smoky fire to signal your location.

6. Ration any food or water you have with you.

Ideally it would be nice if you could always have a compass, map, whistle, watch, flashlight, signal mirror, space blanket, cell phone, radio, etc. with you at all time so you would be found sooner and be more comfortable. However, when you are lost you don’t get the chance to choose what you have with you; you have what you have so just try and make do.

If I could have only one thing to be lost with it would be matches. Fire is the most powerful survival tool.

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