How to Survive If You’re Lost in the Woods

Getting out of the wilderness alive is a matter of knowing what to do--and what not to do.

Instructions

  • Step 1: Stay where you are As soon as you realize you are lost, stay where you are. It’s much more difficult for rescuers to find you if you’re on the move.
  • Step 2: Remain together If you’re with others, remain together.
  • Step 3: Follow the acronym STOP Follow the acronym STOP: SIT down to collect your thoughts; THINK before you do anything or walk anywhere; OBSERVE what’s around you, and listen carefully for noises that indicate people or roads nearby; PREPARE for a long wait by gathering whatever items will keep you safe and comfortable, like wood and kindling if you have a way to start a fire.
  • TIP: If you can start a campfire, start three of them in a straight line or triangle. The universal distress signals are three gunshots, three blasts of a whistle, three fires, or three flashes of a mirror or reflective object.
  • Step 4: Drink up If you have water with you, drink it whenever you feel thirsty. You may be tempted to make it last as long as possible, but it will do you more good in your body now.
  • Step 5: Find a water source Find a clean water source in case your ordeal extends more than a day. If you’re at a high altitude, the running water in a stream is usually okay to drink--but snow is not, unless you melt it first, because it will make you too cold. Look for places that rainwater gathers, like in rock crevices. Pay attention to birds; they like to circle water.
  • TIP: Breathing through your nose will help you stay hydrated longer.
  • Step 6: Don’t eat anything Don’t eat any wild plants, berries, mushrooms, and so on. You’re better off hungry than poisoned.
  • Step 7: Seek shelter Look around for shelter, but don’t wander too far searching for the perfect spot. Get out of the sun—sitting under a tree or rock overhang will do just fine—but don’t hide from people looking for you!
  • Step 8: Build a bed Use the time that you’re waiting for rescuers to gather braches or pine needles to sleep on when the temperature drops; you’ll stay warmer than if you were on the cold ground. And gather whatever is around — leaves, more branches — to place on top of you to further insulate you from the cold.
  • TIP: Curl up in the fetal position to conserve heat. If you’re with a group, huddle together.
  • Step 9: Conserve your energy Conserve your energy. Don’t put so much energy into building a shelter or making an SOS sign out of rocks that you dehydrate yourself more quickly.
  • Step 10: Make noise Make noise. It will help rescuers zero in on you and scare away animals.
  • FACT: In 1998, a lost fourteen-year-old snowboarder survived for six days in the San Gabriel Mountains before being found by rescuers.

You Will Need

  • Water
  • Shelter

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