Camp Tricks

What Not to Do if You Get Lost in the Woods

August 19, 2016
lost forest
lost forest

©istockphoto/Luke_Franzen

We’ve all heard horror stories about hikers wandering off-trail only never to be seen again, or at least not alive. Sometimes accidents happen or poor choices are made and you might find yourself lost in the wilderness. In order to avoid starving to death, or getting eaten by a bear, here are things you should definitely not be doing out there on your own.

Wander
The first, and probably most important, thing to remember is that once you’re lost the worst thing you can do is keep moving. This is how people get so far off course and away from the trail that they’re never found. There are many areas in the country where you could wander for days without ever seeing signs of civilization. Rescuers will pass you by, you’ll expend valuable energy, and the deeper you go the more you’ll be in the territory of wild and potentially dangerous animals. Stay put!

Eat Random Plants
While there are a good deal of plants and berries that’ll nourish you out in the woods, there are just as many that’ll make you sick or even kill you. Filling your stomach will do you no good if you just start expelling all your body’s water a couple of hours later due to a bad case of diarrhea. If you’re not familiar with it, don’t put it in your mouth. You probably shouldn’t touch it, for that matter.

Build a Fire
While some people are equipped to handle a fire, meaning building it properly and keeping it contained, most people probably are not. Unless you have experience doing so, you could end up creating a terrifying situation. A fire could not only spread throughout the forest but it could also attract large animals you don’t want to deal with. Avoid building one and, instead, focus on keeping yourself warm by building a shelter or wrapping yourself in clothes. A poncho is a great tool for helping to stave off the cold and rain in a pinch.

Drink Stagnant Water
If you find yourself stranded near a pond, do not take a sip. The water there is likely unclean and will only make you sick. If you have a filtration system, then you can use that to clean it to a drinkable state. Otherwise, you will need to find a source of clean water. Collecting dew is a good option, as is drinking from a flowing stream. Always boil any water you find if possible.

Climb a Tree
It might seem tempting to mount up the side of an oak tree onto a thick branch and wait out the night, but you aren’t Katniss Everdeen and you’re unlikely to tie yourself into place effectively enough to keep from falling. Stay on the ground, but cover up. If you did manage to pull off some slick ninja moves and perch yourself into a pretty solid position, it would kind of suck if a rescue party walked right underneath you at night and never knew you were there.

Leave Food Lying Around
Hopefully you packed yourself a full array of snacks and meals that’ll hold you over until you’re rescued. Whatever you do, don’t leave the remnants of them lying around when you bundle up for the night. The local wildlife will smell your trash and come looking for a quick meal. Instead, bury the remainder in the ground, far away from where you’ll be closing your eyes.

Sleep in a Cave
In the movies stranded hikers always seem to miraculously get lost right in the vicinity of a handy cave in which they can wait out the rain/night/impending blizzard. In real life this is rarely a good idea, if you’re somehow able to stumble across one. The problem is that caves are rarely unoccupied, even if you don’t find anything in there upon first inspection. Something could come back in the middle of night and see you as a tasty treat, a poisonous snake could be hiding in the shadows, and let’s not forget that some of the most venomous spiders love living in creepy, moldy, dark places.

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