Posted on May 10 2016
Being lost in the wilderness is an especially terrifying experience to open with, but it’s certainly worse if you have no sense which direction you need to head in to be saved. Luckily there are several hard and fast rules of wilderness survival that can be followed despite whether or not you know specifically where you should head.
Look for Human Footprints
By footprints, I don’t mean actual human footprints. I mean any significant signs that one or more person has lived worked, or even passed through a particular area. Some telltale marks of human existence include roads, tamed animals, buildings of any sort, bridges, tree stumps that are a result of sawing, tire tracks, deserted fire pits, etc. If you find any footprints, chances are higher that there is somebody who can get you to safety nearby, or at the lease a person may pass through the area again. If it’s safe for you to do, explore the area that surrounds these human footprints to find out if rescue is closer than you might think.
If In Doubt, Follow the Water
There’s a reason civilisations are more often than not close to water: before we put giant pipes beneath the ground to carry the water for us, we had to go collect the water to stay hydrated. Thus, to conserve energy, time, and an incredible amount of effort, humans built their homes near bodies of water. To find people, then, locate and follow the water. As a general rule of thumb, with running water such as rivers and streams, unless you have some evidence that there might be civilisation uphill, follow the water downhill. Travelling downhill will be much easier than travelling uphill, and in survival situations, you should always preserve as much energy as possible. You will need that energy to continue in case you are lost for longer than you initially expected you would be.
Water has a second advantage of keeping you hydrated. If you’re lost in the wilderness for a long time, you’re going to want to drink. Humans can’t go on for more than three days without water, and this 72-hour window drops rapidly the more you perspire. If at all physically possible, purify the water before you drink it. Certainly do not drink the water without cleaning it if you’re only moderately thirsty, as it will likely make you more ill than the hydration is meriting, but if worst comes to worst and you just cannot go on without drinking, at least the water will be available for consumption.
Find a High Vantage Point
If you find yourself in a spot where it’s especially difficult to see what surrounds you, try to find a high vantage point to take a better look at what’s nearby. To get a better idea of where to go, you’ll need to have a reasonably clear picture of what surrounds you. There may be individuals near, and if not, there may at least be some human evidence left of their having been someone present at one time or another.
Be sure when using this method that you are incredibly safe. Although climbing an extremely tall tree will give you an excellent vantage point, the danger of falling if you’re a new tree climber is not worth the risk of trauma. Remember, no one can provide you with the medical attention you require if you’re already lost and may not be recovered anytime soon, and locating people on your own will be particularly difficult if you’re injured. Climbing a steep hill is more reasonable to be worth the risk, particularly if you’re doubtful to fall. Always err on the side of caution in endurance circumstances because during survival situations your health is the most vital asset you can possess.
Head for Clearings
If you ultimately cannot find a high vantage point bordering you, say because the area is too densely populated with foliage you should try getting out of the woods. Clearings make it much easier to get an actual picture of your surroundings, which will certainly help you to assess what your next point of action should be. You may even find domesticated animals feeding in a clearing that turned out to be a field, or assume that the clearing was the result of a massive number of trees being sawed down. Clearings may also lead you to find low-flying aircraft, which when indicated to, may provide rescue. So long as it’s not unsafe to get to or far to travel to, is a good idea.
Once you’ve got a good look at what’s around you, you should start heading downhill. That’s because, as I’ve already said, you should be following water toward civilisation. But what if you haven’t spotted a body of water? Head downhill! Water consistently flows downhill due to gravity, so you’re extra likely to find water in low-lying regions such as at the bottom connections between two steep areas. If you have discovered a body of water, you should be moving downhill alongside it unless of course there is evidence there may be people uphill. Travelling downhill will help you save your energy, and as a result, it will improve your chance of finding your way to rescue.