Getting lost while camping is one of the worst things that can happen. Even in an area you frequently visit or on open terrain, you may still become lost or disoriented and should always be prepared for it. All too often campers and other outdoor enthusiasts find themselves getting lost while camping in an area they are familiar with. It is very important to be prepared for the possibility and have vital survival gear with you. It can literally mean the difference between life and death.
Things to Pack that May Save Your Life
There are a few things that everyone engaging in outdoor activity should carry on their person—in a day pack, backpack, or even in the pockets of your jacket or cargo pants. Just a few things can make the difference between life and death when you find yourself getting lost while camping.
- GPS Device
- To figure out where you are. Make sure to have a map with GPS coordinates on it.
- Cellular Phone
- To call for help if you are lucky enough to have a signal.
- Water is vital for health and survival. Never go anywhere without water or means to purify what you find.
- Even on short hikes take a small snack or two with you. It might be the only food you get for days.
- A must to signal rescuers. Your voice can give out in a matter of minutes yelling. You do not want to miss being rescued because they couldn’t hear you.
- The ability to make fire in a survival situation often means the difference between life and death.
- Survival/First Aid Kit
- To often missing. Even simple survival/first aid kits will make a huge difference in an emergency.
- Small Mirror
- Very important to signal far off rescuers that would be out of hearing range. A mirror flash can be seen for many miles on a clear day.
- Florescent Ribbon
- Just a small bunch of this tightly wadded can hold many yards of ribbon. This is perfect for setting up signals for help.
Getting Lost While Camping
The first and most important rule of getting lost while camping is when you realize you are lost, stop. Stay where you are. When you are out in the wilderness, the chances of you getting back on the faded trail or ending up in the right valley are much lower than the chances you will head in the wrong direction, ending up in an entirely different area.
Rescuers will use your last known position (LKP) to begin their search. If you move out of this area it can take significantly longer for them to find you. If they think that you are somewhere in a one square mile area they will be able to find you easily. However, if you move from this one square mile area by two more miles, your rescuers then have a 9 square mile area to search! That is almost ten times as much area, often with the same small search and rescue crew. So stay in your LKP, where you first figured out you were lost!
Your best outdoor judgment should be used with the rule of not moving any further. Not moving doesn’t necessarily mean that you should stop and hug the nearest tree. If you are in a place with low visibility such as thick trees, a narrow ravine or some other natural barrier that would impede your rescuers’ view of you, you should move to a place where they can spot you more easily.
You also need to make sure the area you decide to wait for your rescue is safe. If the area you are in is prone to flash flooding, avalanches, or other natural hazards such as falling rocks, you’ll need to move to a safer area.
If the top of a hill, with good visibility, or an open area like a mountain valley is available, make a place to camp and wait for rescue If you can’t find an ideal place, make sure you have someplace to try to get the attention of your rescuers. A person can be incredibly difficult to spot by a helicopter or rescuers on foot across a valley.
The Camping Buddy System
It’s always a good idea go camping with other people. Aside from the companionship, campers who have other people out with them camping have a much higher chance of survival than someone who goes out alone. Most wilderness explorers are saved the nightmare of getting lost while camping by simply stopping and calling out to the other people who are with them. Most times, the buddy is on the trail, near the campsite, or they just haven’t lost their bearings themselves. A simple call out, then an answering call from your partner around a hill, and you are back on track. If you do get lost, and your buddy can’t find you, they will know right away you are in trouble, and the rescue operation can begin much sooner. Having another person with you can also be a lifesaver if you are hurt. They can help the injured person or quickly go get help for them. So if you plan to head to the wilderness, do it with friends and family. It is much more fun and far safer!
Calculate your Risk Carefully When Deciding on a Dangerous Move
It is a good rule of thumb whether you are lost or not, but is is especially important if you are lost. A minor slip could break your ankle. A cut can get infected and sap your body’s energy. Staying in the sun on a hot day can lead to sunstroke. You can unintentionally trigger one of many other medical issues by the choices you make. Some of these may not be life threatening in our everyday life, but they could be when you are getting lost while camping in the woods. If you are lost, there will be no one to help you if you get hurt. So take all precaution to make sure that you don’t!
Waiting Out The Rescue When Getting Lost While Camping
It may seem weird or unproductive but you need to stay where you are. Set up your rescue camp and be prepared to be there for days. If you have any food or water you need to make sure you conserve as much as you can. Make sure you drink, but drink sparingly. Food is not nearly as important as water, so eat just enough to keep you going and to have enough energy to flag down rescuers when they come.
Make sure you set up a signal that will help attract your rescuers’ attention. Something bright or florescent is best. When going backpacking or off the trail in wilderness areas, a small roll of florescent ribbon does the trick. It is small and light, and you can use it to spell out an SOS or HELP that rescuers can see from far away.
Try to make a fire as well. Not only can this be used for heat, to purify water, and cook food, but you can throw on some wet or green wood and other material to established coals and produce a lot of smoke. This will easily get the attention of anyone looking for you. It will also get the attention of wild land fire spotters. The smoke will act like a giant arrow pointing right to where you are. Just make sure you can control the fire and you are prepared to flag would be rescuers when they come to the area.
Don’t Ruin Your Rescue
When you know you have been found by a spotter or a helicopter, make sure that you stay put. Don’t think that since they have spotted you that you can not get lost again. If it is a helicopter that spots you be prepared for a long wait for the rescuers. You may be quite far from any rescuers on foot so have patience, stay put and they will find you.
Also make sure to have your mirror ready to flash any rescuers. Hold your hand out with your fingers in a V formation around your target. Then flash the light between your fingers. This will ensure that you are hitting your target. This is one of the best ways to signal and it can be seen for miles.
Keep your whistle out and handy as well to respond to calls. It is also a good idea to blow the whistle every few minutes. Not only will this help to signal to anyone out the in the woods looking for you, it will also keep animals away from you. Make sure this is a durable plastic whistle, especially if you have any chance of being out in the cold. You do not want a metal whistle freezing to your lips!
These are the basic things that you need to know if you are ever unfortunate enough to get lost when you are camping. These simple steps can save your life and shorten the time you will spend while getting lost while camping in the wilderness.