Getting lost is one of those problems that we all know could happen but we don’t really take it seriously. Our brains are so disoriented due to our modern and convenient way of life that they’ll put us in serious danger should we get lost, particularly in the woods.
Can you blame them? We lived most of our lives safe and secure, only travelled on marked roads, train tracks… We go to work every day on the same route by bus, bike or car and now we’ve got GPS! The road is so predictable that most of the time we’re not even aware of our surroundings… Our mind is elsewhere.
Soon, when SHTF, we’ll be way out of our comfort zone. And then what? If we don’t pay attention to what’s going out around us, we’ll get lost and put our lives in serious danger.
What Can You Do to Avoid Getting Lost?
Before we get to talk about compasses and leaving trails, we need to tackle the most important thing when it comes to orientation: our brain. Wherever you go, even if it just to your workplace and back, you need to make a habit of being aware of your surroundings. If you’re like me when I was unawaken, you probably get a feeling of “I don’t wanna” every time you have to go to a place you’ve never been before.
Here’s the thing, you’re not bad at finding places, you just spent too much in your comfort zone. Wake up that part of the brain that’s currently asleep and notice your surroundings. Maybe it’s a tall building or one that’s painted in a weird color. If you’re out in the wild, look for big or oddly shaped trees and rocks, telephone lines, rivers and so on. Whatever they are, make a habit of memorizing them and regularly look behind to see how your position changed in relation to them.
The next thing you can do is to find connections between these objects and yourself, and I’ve got a kick-ass way of doing that. Imagine yourself leaving your body up, up and away… as you raise higher and higher, you notice yourself and the landmarks becoming smaller and smaller, like little dots on a map.
Then, as you move on that map, see yourself from above, progressing, just like you see the dot moving on your GPS. This is a fun exercise that will activate that part of the brain responsible for orientation and will allow you, in time, to active that “inner GPS” faster and easier.
How do you avoid getting lost? The golden rule is to always follow the marked trails. You don’t want what happened to Mauro Prosperi, 39, who got lost for 10 days in the Sahara desert to happen to you. His big mistake was that he didn’t stay put when a sandstorm hit, but tried to find his way back even though the storm changed the landscape entirely around him. He had a compass, he had a map but absolutely no reference points so, needless to say, he got completely lost when he started to move in an unknown direction.
Now, you probably won’t see the desert anytime soon but you could get lost in the woods or in the mountains, whether you’re camping, mountain climbing or, of course, running for your life after the brown stuff hit the fan. Either way, you need to stay as close to your designated path as much as possible and do not try to explore unmarked territory on your own. You should compare what’s on your map with what you see around you and stop immediately if you’re not sure you know where you are.
Furthermore, don’t be a hero. If you have GPS, use it. You don’t have anything to prove to anyone by using only your compass or only your map. You getting safe to your destination is the most important thing.
Furthermore, don’t give into temptation. Just because you think there may a shortcut, do not deviate from your route and risk getting lost and be forced to build shelter in some part of the forest you don’t know.
You’re Lost, Now What?
Well, if it happens, it happens… and the last thing you should do is panic. Calm yourself down, otherwise you’re going to make the wrong decisions. What you should do is try and remember what the last place that looked familiar was. This works for urban as well as for wilderness situations. Take your time, sit down if you can and focus on what turns you made to get to where you are now.
The next thing you need to do is mark your position, by placing a bandana or a piece of duct tape on a tree. Depending on the situation, you’ll want to do it in a way that will let everyone know you’ve been there or, on the contrary, to make it so that only you know about it.
Either way, you’re gonna have to decide whether you’re going to stay and wait for help or go. If you can find a point in the distance that you recognize, you should probably head in that direction but if you don’t, retracing your steps might be your last resort (apart from staying put, of course).
If you decide to stay, you should have walkie-talkies or other communication methods with your peer group but, just in case you don’t, you can always build a fire so that someone hopefully sees the smoke and comes to the rescue.
If you’re not sure what to do, stick to these two pointers: #1 to stay put and #2 to make yourself as visible as possible until either someone finds you or you figure out what to do. Sometimes, by not rushing to be on the move, you come up with quality ideas that could make the difference between life and death.
Well… what can I say… the big takeaway is to always take precaution measures to avoid getting lost. For example, you can read this previous (and excellent post) about hiking safety tips that will give you further information on the topic.
Author Bio: After working for two top survival info companies, Dan decided to teach on his own and set the ambitious objective of becoming one of the top survival gurus in the world. Teaching and doing are the two words that best describe him in his never-ending quest for top-notch survival content.