Although Bear Grylls often makes surviving in the wild easy and exciting, it takes a lot of preparation and knowledge to stay alive when lost in the wilderness. If you get lost while hiking, man vs. wild becomes a lot more than a fun TV show; it becomes a fight for survival. 

So you’re lost, what now?

If you get lost in the wilderness, STOP, slow down and plan.

STOP – at the beginning of a wilderness survival emergency, the most important thing you can do is STOP. Too many times, hikers keep walking around trying to find the right route, but just end up more lost and confused. So, stay put. It’s ok to admit that you are lost. 

Next, check on the immediate safety of yourself and anyone else that is with you. Take a drink of water, eat a snack and calm down. It is important to take your time and asses your situation. Be smart and think about when you got lost and the last landmarks you saw. Take your time and wait until you are calm enough to make a rational decision.

When making decisions while lost in the backcountry, you must think of the repercussions for the next few minutes, hours and days. Many mistakes are made by lost hikers when they make an initial bad decision. Prevent making that dangerous first bad decision by slowing down and taking a moment to plan.  Even if it is close to dark, you have time. And, you have the resources. Survival is 85 percent mental and only 15 percent physical. You have a strong mind. Now is the time to use it. 

Steps to Survival

Before beginning to take action, assess what you have in your gear and what is available in your environment. What are the weather conditions? Is it going to be dark soon? Is there a good place to take shelter nearby? Once you stop, think and assess, these should be your next priorities:

  1. Find Shelter
    • provides safety and warmth. 
    • Using natural shelters is the easiest, quickest and conserves the most energy. 
    • Take location into mind – avalanche runout, water overflow.
    • Small as possible – simple lean-to. You shouldn’t be able to stand or even be on your knees upright in it. This traps heat and takes less materials and time to make. 
  2. Build a Fire
    • Purpose of a fire – warmth, signaling for help, cooking and protection from wildlife and insects. 
    • Gather enough firewood first so you won’t have to leave the fire. 
    • Build a reflector wall of wood or stone on the opposite side of the fire from where you are so you can take full advantage of the heat. 
  3. Purify Water
    • You should always have a water purification system with you on every hike. 
    • If you don’t have a purification system, boil water for at least five minutes. 
  4. Signaling
    • A fire covered with green foliage gives off large quantities of smoke. 
    • A signal mirror is an effective method of signaling aircraft and can be seen from miles away. 
    • Lining up piles of rocks and drawing an arrow in the dirt can be a method for alerting rescuers. Use what you have around you – search and rescue teams will notice man-made signs while searching on foot. 
  5. Obtaining Food
    • While it may be unpleasant, food should actually be one of the last priorities in a survival situation. The Human body can actually survive for several more days without food than it can without water. 
    • When searching for food, avoid all mushrooms and berries. As many edible species resemble deadly ones. 
    • Small game may sound appealing, but can be difficult.
    • Insects are the most plentiful and easiest to find food sources. Most can be eaten raw but may be easier to eat cooked. This will also kill any bacteria in the insects. 
  6. Attitude
    1. The most important element to survival is maintaining a positive attitude! It will motivate you to stay alive. 

Prevention is Key

There are several steps that a person can take to minimize risks when going hiking, camping or backpacking. Avoid backcountry emergencies and survival situations by simply being prepared. 

  • Do your research
    • Know the weather forecast before you go.
    • Know how long the hike is and how long you will be gone. 
    • Know the terrain you’ll be in. You can often use Google Maps to view the hike from your home before going out. 
    • Be familiar with what hazards you could encounter i.e. wildlife, water obstacles, climbing, etc. 
  • Know your route 
    • Have current maps of the area where you’ll be hiking.  
    • Don’t do a hike that is above your ability level. 
    • Stay. on the main trail – be aware of side trails that break of from the main trail. 
    • Know the local roads, wildlife, plant life, and possible hazards unique to the area. 
    • Know how to read and use a compass.
  • Be hydrated
    • It is important to be fully hydrated before you even go on your hike. 
    • Drink plenty of water the day or two before. 
  • Observe your surroundings
    • Pause every couple of minutes and take a look around. 
    • Turn around often and see what things look like from the opposite direction. That way, you will recognize your surroundings on the way back. 
  • Share your travel plans
    • Always tell two or three responsible adults about the specific location of where you are going and when you expect to return. Write them a full itinerary. If you don’t return by the scheduled time, the authorities can be quickly notified. 
    • Posting about your plans on social media is not sufficient. Nobody is accountable for you on social media. 
  • Never hike alone
    • It’s not worth the risk. use the buddy system on all hikes. 
    • Most stories of hikers getting lost have been of people on their own. 

Using these survival tips and techniques are at your own risk. However, the best way to ensure that you never need them is to always be prepared. 

Leave your man vs. wild wilderness survival techniques in the comments below!

Madison Austin
studies Public Relations at Brigham Young University and is a marketing specialist at the Utah National Parks Council. She is an avid hiker and enjoys being outdoors. Growing up in the mountainous regions of Colorado and Virginia enabled her to follow these passions. After moving to Utah to attend college, she has spent her time fostering both a career in Communications and a love for Utah's National Parks.

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