While hiking and trekking can be a lot of fun and allow you to connect with Mother Nature, the possibility of getting lost in the woods is also a distinct possibility. If you do find yourself lost in the woods, here are some important tips on how to survive in the woods.
Have a survival kit
Every time you venture into the back country you should take a pack containing a survival kit so you can survive for a while if worse comes to worse. These are some items I keep in my survival kit that are a must: first aid kit, canteen, pocket knife, emergency blanket, waterproof matches, water filter/pumper, waterproof parka, laminated map, compass, fishing line, flies.
Establish a base if you plan to explore the surroundings
You can remain in a single place to extend energy levels. However, if you are lost in thick forest and have managed to locate a good source of water and shelter then establishing a base before you explore is a sound idea. You can mark out your spot with a pile of rocks or use fallen branches of a tree.
In addition, you also need to keep track of where you have explored by marking the route that you have taken from the base. Using small stones to indicate an arrow or marking tree trunks will enable you to find your way back to the base whenever you decide to do so.
Build a sturdy shelter
You must build a sturdy shelter to get protection from the elements such as rain, ice, or the sun depending on the season. You can use a sturdy branches and logs as a frame to construct a lean to, then use bushy branches with leaves as the roof of your shelter. Alternatively, you can also take shelter in a cave or hollowed tree after verifying there are no animal residents in it. Check out this article on shelter building.
Build a fire Shelterlogic Covered Firewood Rack-12ft Building a fire is also a good idea, especially if the weather is cold. You can use matches or use the traditional method of rubbing two pieces of wood to create a fire. You must gather kindling, fire starter (dry moss or wood shavings), and enough wood around your fireplace to last through the entire night since this will also keep away unwanted animals that may try to come near you out of curiosity while providing you with warmth. You can also put stones around the fire that will get warm then put those stones around you during the night while you sleep as they will radiate heat. Just stay away from river rocks as they will expand and blow up if they are heated.
On the other hand, if you are lost in a forest that only has dried trees and shrubs then building a fire could be fraught with danger as you may end up creating a forest fire. In such a case, you should only make a fire in a very large clearing and should keep enough water nearby to extinguish the fire in case it grows out of control. Building a large fire in secure surroundings will also guide rescuers towards you.
Inform a loved one about your trip in detail
You must inform a loved one about your hiking or trekking plans and provide detailed information of where you will be during each day and night of your trip. Carrying a mobile phone is also mandatory as it will help rescuers locate your position quickly. Having a SPOT satellite system is also a great idea as it will locate your exact spot and you can send a distress call. I always print off a map and circle where I am going to be so my wife knows where to send the search party.
You must also inform your loved one to call the authorities in case you do not call back or return at a pre-determined time. Such a move will ensure that a rescue mission starts as early as possible in case you do get lost or are injured in the woods.
Look around for edible food
You may run out of food if you are lost in the woods for a longer period of time. If you are near a water source such as a stream or a pond, fishing is a good option. You can fashion a spear out of a branch and try to spear a fish. If you have located a discarded fishing line then fashioning a fishing rod with bait in the form of a small insect can also help you catch fish. Pictured on the left is a wild alpine blueberry plant.
On the other hand, the woods too can provide a lot of nourishment in the form of berries, pine nuts, birch bark, mushrooms, and fruits. However, stick to eating plants, berries, mushrooms, and fruits that you can 100% identify that they will not poison you. Keep in mind there are inedible berries and mushrooms that cause poisoning. If you are in a bind and unsure about the safety of a plant to eat, try the universal edibility test. You can also try your hand at eating small insects such as ants, and grubs. Nonetheless, make sure you cook them over a fire to get rid of dangerous parasites as well as make them somewhat edible. Educate yourself on what the local wilderness holds for edible plants in your area. You can also make a snare to trap an animal. Be sure to know how to field dress a rabbit.
You should also boil water over a fire to ensure it is free from dangerous germs. A filter system or iodine tabs would be preferable as boiling does not kill giarda which is a parasite that will cause severe intestinal sickness.
You should also indicate your predicament by attracting attention to your location. If you are in a clearing then making a ‘HELP’ sign with small rocks or tree branches is a good idea. If you are lost in dense undergrowth, then leaving a colorful garment on the tallest shrub or tree will attract the attention of rescuers.
You should also keep fresh branches and leaves by the side of your fire to create smoke in case you hear a chopper or search helicopter. Also try to reach the highest point in the woods to get a panoramic view of the surroundings and boost your chances of getting located.
Use the sun and stars to guide you in the woods
If you plan to travel away from your base or have a faint notion about a safe exit out of the woods then use the sun and the stars to guide you in the woods. As you know the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, you can use the sun’s location in the daytime to guide you to your chosen direction.
At night, you can rely on the position of stars and the moon to guide you. If you know all about stars then locating the Big Dipper as well as the Little Dipper constellations along with the North Star or Polaris can point you towards North. Nevertheless, it is best to avoid traveling at night and you should know your stars before attempting this tip.
Getting lost in the woods can be a frightening experience. However, the above tips on how to survive in the woods should help you stay safe and sound, and even find your way back to civilization.