I love exploring the outdoors. I’ve wandered many trails in different parts of the country and consider myself fairly experienced in nature. One skill that I’ve perfected over the years is how not to get lost. Of course, I did learn the hard way. I’ve been there before–stranded in unfamiliar territory as panic starts to set in. Trust me, it’s not a good feeling. Below are my experiences with getting lost and the rules I now follow to avoid this predicament.
I’ve been seriously lost in the woods twice. First was in the foothills of South Carolina, where I attempted a 10-mile loop through a National Forest on my mountain bike. Since the trip occurred during summer, I only wore shorts and a t-shirt. Additionally, I brought just enough snacks and water to last a few hours. My biggest mistake was not bringing a map, since I figured the route to be properly marked. Unfortunately, the trail was eroded and faint, forcing me to push my bike the majority of the way. At some point I realized I wasn’t even on the trail as dusk settled. Lacking the proper clothing and out of food and water, I was ill-prepared to stay overnight in the woods. Luckily, I found a hard top road and peddled to the nearest house. By that point, it was so dark I had to follow the homeowner’s car on bike to where I parked.
The second time was in the mountains of New Mexico. I set out to hike an eight-mile circle and again only brought enough supplies to last the day. Halfway through, however, the trail ended. Instead of pushing on, I decided to backtrack out and took a wrong turn on the trail. After about 30 minutes, I realized my error and decided to head back in the other direction. The only map I brought was a hand-drawn copy from the internet, which proved useless. Fortunately, I found a few people on horseback and followed them out to the main road (nowhere near where I parked–getting back is another story). If I hadn’t seen them, I might have had to spend the night in the woods, once again lost and unprepared.
How to Prevent Getting Lost
After these incidents, I decided to once and for all alter the way I explored the wilderness. Here are my simple rules:
Plan Your Route Ahead of Time: Research the area thoroughly, especially unfamiliar terrain. Bring a topographical map of the area and routinely confirm your location throughout the hike.
Learn Map and Compass Skills: GPSs are fine as back-up, but battery power only lasts so long. Buy a compass and learn orienteering skills the old fashioned way.
Bring Enough Supplies to Stay Overnight: Always be prepared to spend the night in the woods. Bring extra clothing, a way to start fire, a space blanket, and a whistle for signaling. These items are both mentally and physically reassuring while lost. Of course, what you bring depends upon the season and location you are hiking in.
Let People Know Where You Are: This is a no-brainer. Tell a friend or relative where you are going, even if it’s for a short trip.
Have fun exploring the wilderness and stay prepared!
More Articles from the Author
Doctor Fish to Soothe Your Feet
Adventures in a Korean Fish Market