Women in the Outdoors: What To Do When You’re Lost

What to do when you're lostSo. Today, we are going to be knockin’ on some wood when we’re done here. We’re going to talk about when things go wrong. Seriously. Knock on wood. (now, would be good!) What to do when you’re lost.

You are out on the Adventure of your dreams, the first time or the hundredth, and suddenly things, events or nature get really bad, really fast. You are lost. You are hurt. You are trapped.

“There is in every true woman’s heart a spark of heavenly fire, which lies dormant in the broad daylight of prosperity; but which kindles up, and beams and blazes in the dark hour of adversity.”  ~Washington Irving, The Sketch Book, 1820

Somehow, you have become separated from your group or guide. Ha! Not~ with Pioneer Outfitters! We do not, loose people! Not one! Not ever! (Not even if we’re asked to loose someone!) I wouldn’t even want to try to imagine the “discussion” that would bring on when the Boss found out that a guest was lost… (shudder) Back to the point, you are suddenly alone and have no idea where you are.

This could also be you out and about alone in your own wild places, close to home and are somehow hurt, and still alert, what do you do?

Now what? (Go ahead,  knock on wood.)

First. Sit down and calm down.What to do when you're lost

You are lost or separated from your party or guide, maybe you are hurt. Stop. Sit down. Breathe. Don’t think, just breathe for a minute.

A panic attack or even shock may be something you’ll have to fight. So, don’t think. Stop. Sit down and breathe for a couple minutes. Slow your racing heart. Gather yourself at your center and breathe. Every breathe grows the center until, after a minute or two, you are all full of you, you’re still there.

I have heard people say, “You are not lost. You are right where you are. Everything else is lost.” For some reason, that always makes me feel better, thinking of that silly statement!

Ok. You’ve calmed down. Now, you need to think.

What do you have with you? Now is the time for rational thought. What is in your backpack? We spoke about what to always have with you in Your Outdoors Checklist.

Think about the last place you were with your guide or if you are on your own, certain of your location. You are ok,  you can take control of this situation.

Look around. Be observant.What to do when you're lost

It’s time. Look around carefully. Be alert. Look for a spot that you can easily reach, open to the sky, so that you can be seen from the air, if need be. Look for what is around you that can be used as shelter. Look for dead-fall or limbs that can be used for a fire. Take in all that surrounds you.

Take control.

Make a plan. Take control. You can do this. You need shelter and a fire. Start with those.

First, tie something you can see to the closest tree to you. Make sure you can see it as you walk away from the spot you are at. That is YOUR marker.

Gather twigs, leaves and small wood first. Make a good size pile off to the side of where you will make a fire ring with rocks or stones. Gather as much medium and bigger limbs, deadfall or wood you can cut (if you have a pocket saw or hatchet) and pile it nearby also. You want to gather as much wood as you can while you have light.

As you gather wood for your fire, remember, stay alert. Look for a natural shelter, an outcropping of earth or rock, trees that have fallen and are elevated, even a tarp if you just happen to have one handy.

That is where you will make your fire ring and make piles of kindling and firewood. Gather stones or rocks, or even dig a indentation into the ground, to make a fire ring and to make it safe, for you and the wilderness.

Beware of hypothermia.

Now that you have your wits, you have shelter and a fire, you will begin to cool very fast. If you have extra clothing, put it on. Hypothermia is absolutely, hands-down, the scariest thing out there, in my opinion.

Stay alert to your surroundings, keep your fire going. If your pack has food and water in it, have some. Keep green leaves or limbs nearby, as they make a good smoke signal. Your fire’s light is a good signal for those searching for you.

What to do when you're lostPeople are coming for you. Stay safe. Stay positive. (Just think of the stories you’ll be able to share at the campfire!)

As I am writing this, I find myself concerned that you may have missed the previous posts in our Women in the Outdoors series.

Please, if you are venturing into the wilderness or wild places near you, take the time to read these posts:

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12 Responses to Women in the Outdoors: What To Do When You’re Lost

    • Aww, SteelToad (have to giggle that I actually just wrote that name…)
      Come on out here…I’ll get ya lost…then I’ll come find you.
      That’s what we do, we make all those wishes come true! LOL

  1. ” (Just think of the stories you’ll be able to share at the campfire!)” True that! Because we know you’ve trained us well by now!

    As Always ~*~

    • Stuff happens, Ann. You know that. I just want people to understand, especially people just starting to dip their toes in, that it will be ok. Just stay cool, do what you do, follow the steps… STAY POSITIVE
      I think the mental is the most important issue… in the wilderness we live in, any I am sure, to survive, from a nick to a real big problem, the Survival comes from keeping your wits, using what is available and just do the steps. Stay where you are, someone is coming. Stay safe.

  2. Hi Amber-Lee, I’ve gotten lost in the woods before and let me tell you it is a very scary experience. I was with three friends and we were staying in a rented cabin. We took a late afternoon walk and no one paid attention to where we were going. We had no packs, compass, trail maps, etc. No one knew where we were or that we were even in the woods. We pretty much did everything wrong.

    It was getting dark and cold.

    I wish I had had your advice then. We got super lucky. I found a road and we followed it. We didn’t know which way to go but I saw some trash one was so we walked that way. After about an hour, a pickup truck drove by and gave us a lift. Yes, he could have been a serial killer, but what choice did we have?

    He drove us back to the cabin where there was a map. If we hadn’t found the road, we would have been lost in hundreds of miles of woods.

    This is serious. I’m so glad you shared this information. I especially like the idea of marking the tree so you have a place of reference.

    Thanks for this!

  3. Carolyn,

    THAT was exactly my line of thought as I was getting this post ready to publish.

    PLEASE, please, if anyone is ready these comments, after finding this post, and you are new to the wilderness… Please take the time to check out the previous posts… You NEED to be prepared and most of all, tell someone reliable where you are going and when you expect to return.

    I am so happy things turned out fine and dandy for you and your friends… honestly, it usually does. Usually. People need to remember we are born to be in the wild areas… it is inside each of us. Stay smart, stay calm.

    You are so welcome, Carolyn and I hope the experience didn’t keep you out of the wild places after that. It means tons to me that you would share your experience, here, with us.

    It happens. It does happen. Be prepared for anything, and laugh at anybody that says you are bringing too much! LOL (That’s what I do!)
    ~Amber-Lee, aka Alaska Chick

  4. Hi Amber!
    I’ve been thinking of you so I came and found you over here. :) I hope you are doing well. First and foremost, that was my reason for checking in.
    But then I read this. I was once lost and separated from my friends on Mt Rainier. We were backcountry skiing and it was a crystal clear day. All of a sudden, a band of clouds came in and socked us in so badly, we became disoriented and skied past the parking lot. All ended well and we were all fine before it got dark, but let me tell ya, that’s a RUDE FEELING. I found my two friends quickly and then we got to the point where we were taking stock of the food and blankets in case we had to spend the night.

    We didn’t.
    This is a post everyone should read that goes in the backcountry.

    • Hi Lisa!!
      I am so happy to see you! I AM doing well! Happier than ever, I think. Meeting so many people, learning so much… it seems I’m not the “loner” I really always thought I was, LOL.

      Lisa. This post in the Women in the Outdoors series, has me incredibly worried. I mentioned that towards the end of the post, now your story… Carolyn also shared a scarey story… and all grins aside, memories, stories shared, lessons learned… I am very concerned for others.

      I sincerely hope that with today’s ease of information gathering…Stories, our own personal stories, are all we will share. I have been “lost” in the wilderness too, but never afraid. (It seems unfair to say that so I will share my fear…The River is my personal demon. Every time.) I want to touch as many people as I can, if only to remind them to stay calm, take stock and do what comes next.

      What also came to my attention, looking around since writing this was that there is a TON of information, how-to’s and checklists to be had… but a lot of them are pretty intimidating, a LOT of information and “Have-To-Knows” …it is a lot to absorb for a brand new adventurer. I had thought of that when I decided I would help more women feel comfortable going into their own wild places, and decided I would take it a step at a time, small, bite-size pieces of the steps.

      But, I ask myself now, what if someone only reads one post? What if they don’t have their pack? What if all they have is themselves?

      The answer is that simple. You have yourself. Stay calm, do the steps.

      Thank you for sharing that memory with us, Lisa. By sharing our own stories, we can give a safe-lesson for others to learn from.

      So here’s no no more RUDE feelings!

  5. I have a hunting/outdoor backpack that everyone makes fun of because I always want to be prepared if I would ever need it. I carry around about 20 pound ‘just in case’. The ‘just in case’ happened to me this fall while hunting when I topped a ridge and went down the other side without realizing and failed to meet my husband at closing hours at our designated spot. Sometime about dark I realized I was NOT in the right spot and started hiking until I hit a Forest Service marker to check out on my map to see where I was. Even when I found it on the map I still could not wrap my mind around the fact that I was on the wrong side of the mountain so my brain told me to keep going downhill. That simply put me further and further out of the area where I really wanted to be. After a bit I also realized I transposed two trail numbers and was not anywhere where I thought I was. I took time to really orient myself and started on my way home…after 8 1/2 hours of hiking sometimes thru blizzard conditions and thru a wonderfully full moon night I was ‘found’ by our local Search and Rescue folks. I was never afraid or panicky for me…just for all those that were worried about me. I was happy to have had such a large and well stocked backpack. I did not follow the stop and make fire and shelter advice first but took everything step by step and stopped and asked how I was feeling, would eat and drink. I never want to put my family and friends through that ever again. They will never let me live it down and still make fun of my backpack but at the same time appreciate that I was prepared. This was the night before Thanksgiving and I was found at about 1:30 in the morning on Thanksgiving. Needless to say, we had a lot to be thankful for that day. I never even thought SAR would be out until after I was lost for at least 24 hours. I was on my way home and knew where I was when they found me. I would have gotten home about four in the morning had they not picked me up. I hiked about 20 miles that day. Thank you for posting these articles of advice and I hope lots and lots of people read them so that they too will be prepared and ready. I would certainly advise people to stop and take stock and stay put. Your mind will do very funny things to you even when everything else says something different. Had I stayed put I would have been found sooner. Thanks for letting me share.

    • Darla I am so (so very) happy that you shared that, here and with us all.

      I am so happy that I am not the only one that carries what others may consider “too much.” Ha! It is also good to say that you, me, anyone, may not have felt so “in control” had that heavy pack of “too much stuff” not been on your back! I am going to be thankful too, that you were ok, found or not, and home with your family and eventually found yourself here, on this post to share your experience.

      It can happen to anyone.

      Darla, this is a new series, a whole new idea for me to share these steps, with anyone that finds them (and I, like you, want as many people to understand these things, as possible). So I hope you will be back to chime in and share with us often!
      Happy to meet you!
      ~Amber-Lee, aka Alaska Chick

  6. Great post! -So important not to panic, this is the biggest thing isn’t it, like you said, just sit yourself down a minute and BREATH…

    I do my adventuring by horse and whenever i’m lost (S**t happens!)i find that the discipline of having to sort the horse out (food, water, pack etc) really calms me down, it’s a routine, a plan, it’s not going to get me found but just having those steps to do stops me worrying and puts me back in functioning mode. I guess it’s the same sorting out your fire, and your camp if know you’re going to be lost for the night, it’s putting yourself back in control of the situation, brilliant that you shared this advice.

    The other great point is that you’re never really lost, you’re just not where you thought you were…And if you’re well prepared, well hey, that’s not the end of the world now is it!

    keep on truckin’


    • Holly!

      Aww, I am so happy you found me! “You’re not lost, you’re just not where you thought you were.” ~ Perfect!!

      Thank you for popping in and I hope I’ll get to find out more about where you ride!
      Till then,
      ~Amber-Lee, aka Alaska Chick

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