Exploring the great outdoors can be an exhilarating experience. However, anyone who ventures into the wilderness must also prepare for the possibility of becoming lost. While this idea can be disconcerting, there is no need to panic, as well-informed individuals stand a much better chance of emerging unscathed from the ordeal.

Being lost in the wilderness can pose a range of challenges and dangers. Developing a basic survival plan and possessing the essential tools are key to ensuring safety.

I have been in a similar situation before, but I was able to make it home safely. It’s important to be prepared ahead of time because you may not have access to the internet in remote areas to seek immediate help.

In this article, I will discuss essential guidelines, recommendations, and tips to help adventurers stay safe and survive if they find themselves lost and need to rely on their resourcefulness and survival skills in the great outdoors.

With the right knowledge and preparation, what might have been a potentially dangerous situation can become a manageable and even empowering experience.

Before Heading Out

Preparing a Survival Kit

When going into the wilderness, it’s important to be prepared. Make sure your backpack has all the necessary items. I always have my essentials packed and ready to go.

These include food, water (along with purification tablets or a filter), a lighter or matches, a pocket knife or multi-tool, a map and compass, a headlamp, sunglasses and sunscreen, a raincoat, a change of clothes, and a first aid kit that includes a powerful whistle.

Having these items on hand will significantly improve your chances of survival in case you get lost.

Informing Others About Your Trip

Before heading out, it’s essential to leave a detailed description of your route and expected return time with a close friend or relative. This information will be invaluable if you go missing and a search and rescue effort needs to be initiated. To compile this information, you’ll need to study your map carefully.

Studying the Area

Acquaint yourself with the landscape, climate, and potential hazards of the area you plan to explore. This knowledge will help you navigate and avoid potential threats. Be particularly mindful of major landmarks that could help you reorient yourself if you get lost. Additionally, familiarize yourself with local flora and fauna, as some could be useful for food and shelter, while others may be dangerous.

In summary, proper preparation and planning are key to staying safe and surviving when lost in the wilderness. Equip yourself with a well-stocked survival kit, inform others about your trip, and study the area thoroughly before venturing out.

Staying Calm and Assessing the Situation

When an individual finds themselves stranded in the wilderness, staying calm and assessing the situation are crucial steps. Understanding and recognizing the signs of being lost and implementing some mental strategies can help increase a person’s chances of survival and eventual rescue.

Signs You’re Lost

Some common signs that a person may be lost in the wilderness include:

  • Not recognizing landmarks or the surrounding environment
  • Straying off the intended path or trail
  • A sense of confusion or disorientation
  • Panic or anxiety due to feeling lost

When any of these signs are encountered, it’s essential to stop and assess the situation.

Mental Strategies

It’s necessary to implement some mental strategies to stay focused and make rational decisions. Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Take deep breaths: Deep breathing exercises can help calm the mind and reduce panic or anxiety. Inhale slowly, hold your breath for a few seconds and exhale at a controlled pace. Repeat this exercise several times to help clear the mind and refocus.
  2. Stay positive: Maintaining a positive attitude when lost in the wilderness is essential. Remember that help and rescue are possible, and staying positive will improve decision-making during this challenging situation.
  3. Prioritize tasks: Prioritizing tasks can help maintain focus and ensure that essential tasks are completed. Determine the most critical steps required for survival, such as finding water and shelter, and focus on accomplishing these tasks first.
  4. Rest when necessary: When feeling tired, be sure to stop and rest for at least 30 minutes before reaching exhaustion. Conserving energy and avoiding overexertion are significant factors in survival situations.

By staying calm and assessing the situation, you can improve your chances of surviving and being rescued when lost in the wilderness. 

Utilize these mental strategies and remain focused on the main goal: survival and rescue.

Finding Shelter

When lost in the wilderness, finding shelter is crucial for survival. This section will discuss selecting a location and building a shelter based on the knowledge and search results provided.

Selecting a Location

Deciding on a location for your shelter is an important first step. Consider the following factors when choosing the perfect spot:

  • Safety: Avoid setting up your shelter near areas with potential hazards, such as falling rocks or branches, steep slopes, or bodies of water prone to flooding.
  • Water availability: It’s important to be near a water source if possible while maintaining a safe distance from it.
  • Exposure: Select a location that provides natural protection from the elements, such as a cave entrance, a densely wooded area, or a hillside. You’ll want to ensure you’re shielded from wind, rain, and other environmental elements.

Building a Shelter

Once you’ve found your ideal location, it’s time to build your shelter. Here are some tips on how to create a survival shelter:

  • Gather materials: Collect various items from your surroundings, such as branches, leaves, and rocks. These materials can be used to create a sturdy structure.
  • Choose the type of shelter: There are numerous types of shelters, such as natural formations and those you build with tools or your bare hands. The type of shelter you make will depend on the available resources and time.
  • Insulation: Proper insulation is essential for maintaining warmth and staying dry in your shelter. Line the walls and floor with leaves, grass, or clothing to reduce heat loss.

Constructing a shelter can be crucial for surviving in the wilderness, and selecting the right location and using natural resources is vital. Make sure to build your shelter according to your needs, and remember to stay safe during the process.

Signaling for Help

Visual Signals

backpacker in wilderness creates a fire signal

Visual signals are one of the most effective ways to signal for help when lost in the wilderness. A distress signal in groups of three is internationally recognized as an indication of distress.

This can be done by creating three fires or arranging three big piles of rocks in a triangle. Additionally, making a signal fire with black smoke can effectively alert rescuers.

Another way and one of my favorites to signal for help, is using a mirror or flashlight to create light flashes. This can be especially useful during sunny days when the reflection is more noticeable. Similarly, propping up a large, bright flag can draw attention from rescue workers who may be scanning the area from afar.

Audible Signals

Audible signals can also be quite effective in drawing the attention of rescuers. Blowing a distress signal using a whistle is a simple yet efficient way to make your presence known. The sound carries further than the human voice, and it requires less energy to use. Just like with visual signals, you can blow the whistle in groups of three for maximum effect.

Apart from whistles, you can also use firearms to signal for help. Firing three consecutive shots is a recognized distress signal that can be heard from a long distance. Remember always to follow safety precautions when handling firearms.

Technological Methods

Modern technology has made it easier to signal for help when lost in the wilderness. Carrying a reliable communication device like a radio, phone, or locator beacon can make all the difference in a life-threatening situation.

Radio, phone, and locator beacons are handy in areas with poor cell service or where you cannot create visual or audible signals. Locator beacons can send your precise location to rescue teams, significantly increasing your chances of a swift rescue.

Remember that electronic devices should be protected from water, extreme temperatures, and physical damage. Regularly check the battery life of your devices and carry backup or alternative power sources if possible.

It is inevitable to say that signaling for help when lost in the wilderness is vital for survival. Utilizing the available visual, audible, and technological methods can significantly increase the chances of being rescued and safe.

Obtaining Water and Food

Finding Water Sources

Take Few Water Purification Tablets to Survive

When lost in the wilderness, finding water is crucial for survival. One method to locate the water is to follow animal tracks or observe the flight patterns of birds, as they often lead to water sources. Additionally, you can search for water by looking for lush vegetation, as plants often grow near water sources. Digging a 3-foot deep pit can also help harvest water from moister soil beneath the ground.

It’s important to remember that water found in the wild should always be filtered or purified before drinking. In some cases, boiling water may be the only option available to kill contaminants.

Hunting and Foraging

Finding food in the wilderness involves a combination of hunting and foraging. Here are some basic tips to follow:


  • Familiarize yourself with the local wildlife.
  • Use primitive tools like sharpened sticks, slingshots, or snares.
  • Focus on smaller games, as they are easier to catch and require less energy to hunt.


  • Learn to identify edible plants, fruits, and nuts.
  • Be cautious of toxic plants and only consume what you can positively identify.
  • Look for natural sources of protein, such as insects and grubs.

Utilizing these techniques can improve their chances of finding sustenance when lost in the wilderness. Although it can be challenging, having the knowledge and skills to locate food and water sources can make all the difference in a survival situation.

Navigating to Safety

Surviving in the wilderness when lost can be a daunting experience. Still, with the right knowledge and tools, one can significantly improve their chances of finding their way back to safety. This section outlines the importance of using navigation tools and following natural landmarks to navigate the wilderness effectively.

Using Navigation Tools

When venturing into the wilderness, having certain navigation tools with you is essential. Some basic tools include:

  • Compass: A magnetic compass is a must-have tool to determine direction accurately. It helps identify the north-south orientation and can guide you in the right direction.
  • Map: A topographic map of the area you are exploring can be valuable in identifying land formations and potential paths of travel.
  • GPS device: Modern GPS devices offer detailed locations and can track your progress, helping you find your way back to the starting point or navigate to a specific destination.

It’s essential to know how to use these tools effectively. For instance, understanding how to read a topographic map and use it in combination with your compass can greatly increase your chances of finding your way.

Following Natural Landmarks

In addition to navigation tools, nature offers its own set of guiding landmarks. Any prominent feature in the landscape can serve as a reference point to help you navigate. Some common natural landmarks include:

  • Ridgelines and Valleys: Keep an eye on the landscape and follow ridgelines or valleys, as they often lead to water sources or lower points where a trail might be found.
  • Rivers and Streams: Flowing water usually leads to lower elevations, and it’s common to find trails and settlements near water bodies. However, be cautious, as rivers and streams can be unpredictable and dangerous.
  • Solar orientation: The sun rises in the east and sets in the west, so using the sun’s position can help you determine the approximate direction throughout the day.

In conclusion, while navigating in the wilderness when lost, it is important to use a combination of navigation tools and natural landmarks to find your way back to safety. Maintain a clear head, and stay aware of your surroundings to make the best decisions for your survival.

Dealing with Wildlife

When stranded in the wilderness, encountering wildlife can be both a blessing and a challenge.

I’d like to share a story with you about a group of fellow hikers that I learned about recently.

A group of hikers were exploring the wilderness in Arizona when they came across a black bear. The bear was agitated and began to charge toward them. The hikers quickly realized that they needed to defend themselves.

One of the hikers remembered reading about a natural defense against bear attacks – a mixture of cayenne pepper and water. The hikers quickly mixed up the concoction and sprayed it toward the bear. The bear stopped in its tracks, sneezing and coughing from the pepper spray.

Taking advantage of the bear’s momentary confusion, the hikers escaped. They learned that sometimes, a natural remedy could be just as effective as any weapon. From then on, the hikers always carried a small bottle of cayenne pepper with them on their wilderness adventures, just in case they encountered any more dangerous animals.

So having proper knowledge of how to avoid or handle these encounters can significantly affect your survival chances.

Avoiding Encounters

To minimize the chances of encountering potentially dangerous wildlife, follow these tips:

  • Make noise: As you walk, make occasional loud noises or talk loudly to alert animals of your presence and avoid surprising them.
  • Keep a safe distance: If you happen to spot wildlife, maintain a safe distance to avoid provoking them.
  • Travel in groups: Larger groups are less likely to be approached by predators.
  • Avoid attractive odors: Keep food and scented items in airtight containers to avoid attracting bears or other animals.

Responding to Threats

Despite your best efforts, you may still be in a dangerous situation. Here’s how to handle encounters with common types of wildlife:

Beware of bears in the woods
  • Bears: If you see a bear, speak calmly and firmly while slowly backing away. Don’t run or climb trees, as bears are excellent climbers. Should the bear attack, fight back by targeting the bear’s face using anything available, like a stick or rocks.
  • Venomous snakes: If you encounter a venomous snake, maintain a distance of at least five feet. Slowly step away from the snake without sudden movements. In the event of a snake bite, seek medical attention immediately.
  • Mountain lions: Make yourself seem larger by raising your arms and standing straight. Speak loudly and boldly while maintaining eye contact. If attacked, fight back with all your might.

By applying this knowledge of avoiding encounters and responding to threats from wildlife, you should be better prepared for survival situations in the wilderness.

Final Thoughts

When it comes to surviving in the wilderness, a few key points should always be kept in mind. One of these is the importance of assessing the situation and determining your location. This will help guide your actions and ensure you make the best decisions for your safety.

Another crucial aspect is finding shelter as soon as possible. Shelter is essential to protect oneself from the elements and potential dangers – this may involve locating or constructing a suitable refuge. In addition, taking care of one’s basic needs, such as hydration and nutrition, is vital for survival.

When considering your safety in the wilderness, having a well-stocked survival kit, which may include items like a personal locator beacon, a signaling device, and first aid supplies, can be helpful.

Signaling for help and making oneself visible to rescue teams is another essential step in the process. This may involve using a personal locator beacon or other devices to send out distress signals.

Additionally, knowing how to start and maintain a fire can be crucial for survival, as it provides warmth and a means to cook food and can also be used as a signal for help.

Ultimately, preparation, knowledge, and a proper mindset are the key to surviving in the wilderness. Understanding basic survival techniques and being well-equipped can significantly increase their chances of staying safe and making it out of the wilderness unharmed.


My name is John Winger, I was born and raised in Virginia. I spent a good part of my early adult life in the US military, namely the Army and served in Iraq. I saw my fair share of combat missions and thanks to that experience I have a better understanding and appreciate for what my country means to me and the world.