Backpacker Magazine –
The Manual: Finding Lost Hikers
So You're Lost
Most people who spend a lot of time in the wilderness have been disoriented or flat-out lost at some point. So, what do you do? First, don’t panic. Stop, take a deep breath, and evaluate your situation. As the legendary mountaineer and founder of the National Outdoor Leadership School, Paul Petzoldt, used to say, “Stop and smoke a cigarette.” That is, settle down and come up with a plan. Here’s how:
1. Retrace your steps in your mind.
Can you backtrack? Do you know where you came from and how to return there?
2. Find a high point from which to observe your location.
Look for major rivers, signs of humans, or familiar landforms.
3. Scout the area for recognizable features.
If you can’t reach a viewpoint, find something else that will orient you. But search in pairs, explore for set amounts of time, and make sure you can retrace your steps back to your group or gear.
Do You Stay or Do You Go?
You’ve probably heard the old adage: Don’t move when you get lost. Often, this is the best advice, but not always. You should attempt to walk out only if one or more of these variables is true:
> The area you are in is unsafe.
> Bad weather is approaching, and you have no shelter.
> Nobody knows you’re missing and won’t notice for days, so a search won’t be launched anytime soon.
> You’re in a place where you or a signal–like a smoky fire or flashing mirror –won’t be noticed. In this case, decide whether it’s best to move to a noticeable spot or walk out.
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