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Lost In The Woods: 5 Tips To Get You Back On The Trail

The almost scolding realization that you are lost in the woods is one that hits an estimated 2000 people every year. Those are the ones brave enough to report it or require rescue. Many more head off the beaten path only to suffer mild panic before finding their way back to civilization. Though it may sound silly with the marked up and color coded paths in many national parks, things happen.

In the wild there are pictures of hawks that need to be taken, sunsets ‘just over that ridge and possible campsites that need to be explored. In fact, backwoods camping requires you must be at least 100 yards from a major path or body of water. I often find myself second guessing when I am chasing those beautiful brook trout through streams in the Blue Ridge.

Basically, it can happen. You can get lost in the woods and you can get lost fast. I will tell you from experience that there is an agonizing feeling when you realize the path wasn’t where you left it. The heart starts to race and you come face to face with your own ability or inability to find your way back.

Getting lost in the woods is no joke, the truth is people die in the woods. They leave their homes with an empty camera, smile on their face and never return. There are monsters in the wild and I am not talking about the furred type. There are chilling winds, soaking rains and jagged rocks that all can threaten your life. Things like hypothermia, dehydration and debilitating injuries affect more people in the wild than animal attacks.


This threat can kill you in a night’s time and it only takes a few degrees to drop your core body temperature. Sleeping on the cold ground, falling into water and working up a healthy sweat on your hike can all lead to hypothermia on nights that otherwise might seem seasonable.

If you are lost chances are you won’t have access to adequate shelter or clothing and this could put you at risk.


It only takes about three days without water for your body to begin shutting down. Even the most basic motor skills will become incredibly difficult once you reach this level of dehydration. When you are lost in the woods you will not have access to enough safe water. Vapur microfilter bottles are amazing and can be a life saver in this type of situation.

Lost in the woods? Don't get dehydrated


Many people become incapacitated from injuries they suffer while hiking and traveling in the backwoods. These injuries can be make a return to civilization impossible. In this case, you are left a victim of the two instances above and you or unable to protect yourself against predators.

Lost In The Woods – 5 Tips To Get Your Back On The Trail

These tips will cover navigation, shelter, fire, signaling for rescue and safely making it out.

Map and compass

The most important and powerful step you can take when traversing the wild is to keep a map and compass on your person. There is no easier way to get yourself out of a jam than by using a map to first find yourself and then find your way out of a bad situation.

A map is a tool. It’s not made out of forged steel but it can be just as powerful. Like any other tool you must learn how to use this tool properly. Understanding your location on the map and how to navigate from that position is the most important part.

The compass will give north and from there you will be able to discern which direction you are traveling. Once you have found out your current direction look to the map to find out which direction you should be traveling to make it back to a trail, major road or campsite.

Take your time and be observant as you travel. Paths and trails often swerve and at times it’s hard to move in one direction. Use the compass along your walk to assure you get back on track. Practice this navigation method before your life depends on it. This way you are well versed if you get lost.

Look and Listen – others, highways, water

The adventure and travel industry has grown 65% year over year since 2009. It’s absolutely astounding growth. It almost seems criminal. I believe this is due to the overwhelming and intrusive advances in technology. The outdoors have become the balance to our tech addiction.

That said there is almost always someone around. Even on these remote hiking trails spread about national parks across the nation you find people. There has also been extensive work done to make these remote areas more accessible.

Rather than panic and stumble through the woods terrified, tripping and fumbling, it is often worth stopping sitting for a moment. Listening. You can listen for the babble of a brook or the sound of a bigger stream. You could also listen for the sound of tires on a trail or road.

Most importantly listen for people. Even the faintest sound of people will allow you the ability to yell and scream for help.

It’s very easy to get distracted by your problem. You will think that the only way out if the predicament is to work harder, move faster. Sometimes it helps to stop and listen.

Carry a Trail Pack

Now you may have a giant hiking pack that hold an entire campsite. There are some amazing bags on the market today. What I would recommend is also bringing a much smaller bag to take on hikes around the campsite. I like those cheap backpacks with the rope handles.

Lost in the woods trail knife

Bring only the basics in these bags

Don’t hit the trails without some tools. Even if it’s a small trek around your campsite. You could fall off a ridge and wind up hurt and much further from the campsite than you thought. This bag could get you back to civilization or keep you warm and safe until you are found.

Tuck In

Sometimes you gotta know when to fold em! If you are lost and the sun is beginning to fall you must change your priorities. Being lost is your number one problem when the sun is up and you can travel. Once the sun starts to head towards the horizon your new number one is shelter and warmth.

Reading a map

Though you may think you are just a quick hike over that ridge you could be anything but. That internal pioneer in you will drive you to keep moving but before you know it will be dark and you will be in big trouble without a fire and shelter to get you through the night.

Quick Fire

I could elaborate on a very mystical way of starting a fire using specific rocks and the back of your blade. Instead, I would rather you concentrate on saving your life. Always bring a lighter and always bring dryer lint. From here you can get a fire going in tough conditions. When it comes to being lost in the woods you want to spend minimal effort on easily achievable tasks.

Quick Shelter

The A frame is a quick and comfortable shelter that can keep you warm and safe if crafted properly. The A frame can be made of logs and branches. The walls can be insulated with pine needles or dry leaves. The outside can be lined with large green leaves to keep the moisture out. This is where the paracord will come in extremely handy.

This shelter will take a couple of hours to get built and insulated but it will pay off. What two hours means is you should begin work on this shelter with at least four hours of sunlight to burn. Any less and you may be building in the dark.


As you are moving and hopefully heading in a discernible direction remember to utilize that survival whistle. The universal blow for help is three consecutive whistle blows. Execute this throughout your travels. This will allow others to hear you. Again, we have reached a time where the woods are more populated than ever before. Use this to your advantage.


Feeling the brisk air against your face in the morning or watching the sun melt between the mountains at night, these are the best parts of camping. The wilderness is the great equalizer in our world of illogical technological intrusion. We are under attack by advertising and stimulation nearly 24/7.

When we finally break the links and get into the woods there are very real risks we must consider. It’s not about fear but respect for an unforgiving environment. If you come prepared and informed you can enjoy the unforgiving nature of the wilderness along with its unforgiving beauty.


Tuesday 15th of August 2017

Don't panic...

George Ashley

Sunday 5th of February 2017

Being lost in the wilderness is truly terrifying experience, but as you said the help could only be a mile away, considering how many people are actually doing outdoors right now. This is really good, brings us closer together in the nature while ensuring that we are safer since there are more of us.

But we can not count on this as a solution so a proper map and compass is a must. A satellite phone and flare gun or any other way to send a distress signal would also be advised if the area you are exploring is dangerous in the terms of wild life and the terrain.


Sunday 5th of February 2017

Good stuff George!


Thursday 2nd of February 2017

I've been close to lost, but never truly lost. Definitely didn't know where I was a few times (especially while canoeing at 1am in the BWCA!), but thankfully I've been able to find my way back!


Tuesday 31st of January 2017

Great article, happy to see some new posts! Thanks y'all