How to avoid getting lost on a hiking trail!
Anyone who has been lost on a hiking trail in the woods knows there are many factors that can get you “off trail”, such as….
1. Finding a place to take care of business 200 feet off trail,
2. Thick fog
3. Blinding rain and thunder showers
4. Heavy snow
5. Animal sightings distractions.
6. Casual conversation.
7. Road, highway, river and creek crossings where the trail does not continue exactly diagonally across
8. A game trail running parallel then peeling off.
You need a plan for relocating your trail.
Most hikers have heard the acronym STOP (Stop, Think, Observe and Plan) when it comes to the steps to follow getting lost “off trail”. I actually think the planning phase should be done way before you even put your backpack on to head off on a trail you are not totally familiar with. Have a conversation with yourself and others as to what you would do if you suddenly realized, your LOST IN THE WOODS. This is a conversation to talk out among experienced and inexperienced hikers alike.
Education and the sharing of ideas concerning the dangers of being lost and what steps you need to take to be rescued need to be developed and planned for. Asking yourself, “What would I do if I got off trail and was lost?” is not enough. You need to learn, step by step what to do to be found as quickly as possible. Remember, you probably have a limited supply of food!
Here are some helpful steps to follow:
1. Knowing how to help your rescuers is important! Talk to rescue professionals to solidify your plans and procedures.
2. Know the tools available to you – with today’s technology, there is no reason for a hiker to get so far off the path they are hopelessly lost. With the cost of GPS technology coming down, the ability to track every movement and having the capability to text via satellite is priceless. Every hiker should also carry a compass and know the basics about finding the direction they are heading.
2. Communications – Along with GPS should be a smart phone (If and when you have signal) Most smart phones have a compass but you have to assume you do not have any power.
3. Prep before you hike. You need to learn, step by step what to do to be found as quickly as possible.
a) Establish a route and a timing for hiking the route. Communicate this with your support team, family, friends etc...
b) Check in at pre-determined check points, if not daily. Develop a plan for them to follow IF you do not check in.
c) Register your visit at camp grounds/cabins and write down comments on your next day plans for hiking.
d) Be sure you have a trail map, compass, GPS, whistle, small mirror, small flare gun, a trail app (for when you do have cell signal) and carry a way to replenish your cell battery by power pack or winding charger.
e) Bring a fire starter to start signal fires and use damp ground cover for additional smoke. Smoke is a good attention getting signal to airborne search teams.
Be sure to obey the laws of the land when building a fire for your survival. Be aware of what you are doing and burn with extreme care. Remember what happened to the Smoky Mountains and Gatlinburg a few years back.
If you do find yourself lost, then your proparation will kick in and you can apply what you have learned to getting back on the trail. Try these basics…..
a) You can retrace your steps to see if you recognize the trail going the other direction. Make stick markers to show you have gone this way before.
b) Use your whistle to try to signal other hikers and listen for their vocal reply’s. If I hear a whistle in the woods, I yell “HERE”.
c) If you can not find your way back onto the trail, look down hill for a water source like a large creek or small river. Set up camp in a nearby higher opening using bright colored clothing to spell HELP on the ground. Go immediately to the waterway opening if you hear a plane or helicopter. Try using your small mirror and the sun to signal them. If you use a flare gun, just be sure not to aim it at the plane or the pilot. The water source is also important to your survival. Additionally, searchers will search along creeks and waterways. They generally do not have a tree canopy over them, allowing a pilot or spotter to see something unusual. If it is not raining, leaving bright colored fabric on rocks is also an attention getting idea.
Safe hiking! See you on the Appalachian Trail in 2019! Dudley DoRight