You may have heard about the young father setting out with his two boys along a well-known hiking trail; they only expected to be gone a few hours. They never came home that night, a cold rain began to fall mixed with ice, and they had succumbed to hypothermia before rescue personnel could find them. The temperature was 60ᵒF when they started out and had dropped into the 20’s that night.
A couple sets out from home, taking a car trip to Nevada, they programmed the route into their onboard GPS system. They became lost high in the mountains and their vehicle mired in mud. After a few days stranded the husband sets out looking for help. The wife stayed put and was found 49 days later still in the vehicle close to death from malnutrition and dehydration. The husband’s remains were found 18 months after his wife was rescued.
How she survived is nothing short of miraculous. It is not the typical outcome after 49 days stranded in the wilderness.
If you where to ask a survival expert what they are preparing for, they might tell you, they are preparing for the expected crisis. Nothing should ever come as a surprise because if it does it is not likely you are prepared for it. Anything can happen to anyone at anytime.
There are no guarantees of course because even the most well equipped and experienced outdoor enthusiasts get into problems and tragedy follows. However, one thing is certain, if you do not prepare tragedies such as the ones depicted above are much more likely to happen and in some cases are guaranteed.
Prepare To Become Lost or Stranded
Experienced and inexperienced alike tend to only bring enough supplies for the time they expect to be gone. This of course does not allow room for the so-called unexpected events that may happen. Weather events, injuries and even encounters with wild animals can cause anyone to become lost or stranded. An expected three-hour day hike can turn into a nightmare of days wandering lost without shelter, water or food.
Before setting out inform family and friends of your plans. They will need to know when you expect to be back so if you fail to show, they can alert the proper authorities. Car, skiing and snowmobile trips along with hikes should be mapped out ahead of time and then copy the map and give to family and friends, so rescuers have a starting point.
Regardless of the time, you expect to be gone, carry enough supplies for at least three days. Also, carry the materials and tools to collect and purify a water source, make shelter and forage for food if necessary. Food is not your first priority however. While food is important for morale, comfort and energy, you can survive for several weeks without it, though it will not be a pleasant several weeks.
You cannot, practically speaking carry anymore than a three days’ supply of water in your pack if you carry the recommended one gallon per day. Water weighs 8.5lbs/3.8kg per gallon so a 72-supply is over 25 pounds. The minimum is two quarts/liters of water just to maintain adequate hydration levels in temperate zones.
Shelter is your first priority once you realize you are lost or cannot make it back before dark. You cannot attempt to hike out of your predicament in the dark, it is simply too dangerous. Accept your situation and evaluate your surroundings. If have packed a shelter get it set up otherwise use the tools you have to make one, tools you should have packed such as a machete, hatchet or collapsible wood saw, along with quality cordage such as 550 paracord. Large ponchos and tarps can be used as an emergency shelters along with thermal (Mylar) blankets.
Stay in one place so rescue personnel can find you. They will not find you if you run in circles looking for help because you panicked and then tripped in the dark and tumbled down a ravine or walked off a cliff. You are lost, so running from bush to tree thinking you recognize it will only waste energy, cause you to drink more water and will cause injuries.
Once you have a shelter put up get a fire built and maintain it at all times. Smoke can be seen for miles in the daylight. If you are in a heavily forested area look for elevated, spots nearby and build a fire there if it can be done safely. Flames are difficult to see at night in a deep forest and you can expect rescuers will not be looking for you at night on foot. If you are near the shores of a large body of water build and maintain a fire at all times so it can be seen from the air and water.
Start helping rescuers find you, by leaving visual signs such as smoke and three symbols on the ground or in sand or snow immediately. Any set of threes is considered a universal distress signal. Trample “SOS” or three “X’s” in sand or snow and fill in the depressions with foliage so the symbols can be seen more easily from the air. Use rocks, pine boughs, branches or any forest debris to make a set of three symbols.
Begin immediately helping others find you. Do not wait until you think rescue personnel have mounted a search. If you expected to be gone three days and became lost the first day rescuers will not even begin searching for at least 48 to 72 hours. Family and friends back home will not alert anyone until the expected time for you to be home has passed, but others that are not lost may find you so let someone know you are there.