It happens every year – people get stranded on a road trip or lost while hiking, camping or hunting and fishing. It could be anywhere, from a remote desert to a snowy mountain back. Knowing how to stay comfortable and signal for help are some of your biggest concerns when you’re stuck or lost. Here are a few basic rules for surviving and how to attract attention in order to get rescued.
Unless you’re in danger, stay with your vehicle – be it an automobile, boat or plane. If you’re on foot, in most cases it’s typically best to stay right where you are as soon as you realize you’re lost. The reason is simple: Rescuers usually pick up a trail and follow it; if you continue to move and wander aimlessly, you’re only prolonging the fiasco. Cars, boats and plane wreckage are usually more visible from the air than a single human.
If imminent danger forces you to leave your vehicle, the most important things you’ll need to survive are water and protection from the elements. You can last weeks without food, but only days without water, so make sure you have a supply of with you at all times, when possible.
Shelter from the elements, be it freezing or scorching temps, moisture, wind or the sun, is your next concern. You need to stay comfortable – meaning within survivable means, not sit-on-the-couch comfortable – and protected from the effects of Mother Nature. Layer clothing if you’re in cold climates, and wear waterproof or water-resistant clothing on the outside if moisture is a threat, especially if combined with freezing temps, or light, protective clothing that will shelter you from sunburn in desert climates.
If it’s likely to be a multi-day trek, think about how you’ll protect yourself adequately while you sleep. You can build shelters and insulate yourself against the cold of the ground with natural vegetation, but if you have a spare plastic garbage bag on hand or anything comparable, stuff it in your pocket as you’ve got another tool to help keep yourself dry and insulated.
If you’re searching for civilization, stick to established roads and rivers as much as possible. Eventually, they lead somewhere – rivers flow into oceans or lakes, both of which usually have people nearby, and roads, if you’re headed in the right direction, usually lead to larger, more traveled roads, homes or cabins.
However, before you begin, you have to have a logical plan. Figure out where you’re heading and why. Do you have a map or know for certainty which direction safety is found? If not, stay where you are, hunker down and start finding food, water and shelter while making yourself as easy to find as possible.
If your cell phone doesn’t work and you’re overdue for arrival or someone misses you, eventually they’re going to call authorities to report your absence. Unless you regularly disappear for long stretches of time, authorities will typically launch a search, and they’ll begin working your planned route and likely spots where something could have gone wrong – which is why you stay put. To aid in your discovery, you want to be as conspicuous as possible – and audible and visual signs are the most obvious signals you use:
Image: Courtesy of Ryan.Padilla on Flickr