June 24, 2017

What Would You Do: Lost In The Woods

Its late spring and you’ve decided to try your hand at foraging.  You have a couple of trusted reference manuals and have found a place off the beaten path, so things shouldn’t be too terribly picked over.  You’ve seen a few different plants that you’ve been able to identify and pick. 

Then it dawns on you that you have been walking for a while and you decide to take a break and have some water.  While you are looking at everything you’ve found, it occurs to you that you’ve been out for well over an hour.  You realize that you’ve been looking so hard for plants to identify and going back and forth to your reference book, that you’re not sure where exactly you are. 

You’re sure you can find your way but after fifteen minutes, nothing looks familiar…  You’re lost and there is no cell service.

So, what would you do?

(Check the comments section to see the answers from everyone as well as to add your own.)

Oh and the “I never get lost in the woods” doesn’t count, there is always the possibility of something happening to disorient you long enough to lose track of where you are.  Have a plan just in case.



  1. Chris Ray says:

    If I was going alone, I would have told Trudee where I was going and how long I thought I would be gone. If we’re together, we would tell the kids. This would mean that an hour or two after we were expected to return, someone would be concerned and could call the police and inform them.

    The first thing to do is stay calm. Since I’ve already tried and failed to find my way out, the next thing to do is find a good place to make camp. I’ve read multiple accounts that say, in this type of situation, stay where you are; do not keep trying to find your way out because you can make the situation worse. For me there would be more stress and anxiety if I kept looking and continued to be lost. If I accept that there is a good chance someone will come looking for me soon, and that it’s possible I might have to spend the night in the woods, I think I could accept it and put my energies toward making a fire and shelter to get me through the night if needed.

    Time to do a supply inventory; I would have planned ahead and would have packed a few extra supplies just in case. I would have my metal water bottle, so I can boil water if needed. Using the rule of three’s and the five basic human needs, tells me that I need shelter more than water, and water more that food. I would also have my knife and some cordage, so making an impromptu shelter, while not comfy, would suffice. If I’m not found that night then hopefully I found enough wild edibles to eat for dinner. A fire would improve my visibility and general comfort. My biggest concern would be my diabetes. I’m not insulin dependent, but I get a low blood sugar from time to time and, left untreated, that can be deadly. If I found some berries, there might not be much to worry about. I do carry glucose tablets, but only a few.

    I usually add a contractor garbage bag to all of my kits, they’re bigger than normal trash bags and usually thicker. Getting in the shelter and then sitting inside one will trap in some body heat. I won’t be comfortable, but lasting a night shouldn’t be a huge problem.

    I served in the Navy, but the Marines have a saying I try to live by. Improvise, Adapt and Overcome.

  2. bruce smith says:

    I’m blessed with the Gift of knowing where I am.. I’ve never been lost in the woods on one of my foraging walks.. I don’t really go to deep into the woods I forage in though.. But that said.. If you have not grown up walking in the woods take a day pack

  3. Having been lost just like your scenario has made me vigilant to do everything I can to prevent getting lost in the first place. I let somebody know where I am going and when I expect to return. Pack extra supplies. Know the weather report. Have nav tools like map, compass, GPS. Think shelter, water, food, fire-not necessarily in that order. As I am walking along I am thinking that overhang could make a shelter, that stream is a possible water source (if filtered), that fluffy stuff might make good tinder(and put it in my pocket), those berries look just about ripe, and so on. I try to make a mental check now and then about my location, such as- this trail is generally going east, the sun is on my right, the big mountain is on my left. Turn around now and then and look at how the topography will look on the return route. Make note of any distinctive terrain features along the way.
    Years ago when lost I became very anxious and kept going in the wrong direction
    until after it was dark. I was in denial and kept thinking, surely the trailhead is just around the next bend. It was only by the grace of God that I did not sprain an ankle, break a leg or walk off a cliff. I spent the night pretty much sitting on the ground, although I did have a lighter and made a fire. Now that I know better, I would do my best to make my sheltering decision EARLY- ideally at least two hours before dark if I did not know exactly where I was. Then I would build a shelter, do a supply inventory and so forth like Chris said. Now getting out the next morning is an entirely separate and lengthy subject on its own.

    • Chris Ray says:

      I’m glad you made it through the night, and I don’t think your reaction is uncommon. Solid advice on what to do as your hiking to keep oriented.

  4. Getting lost is one of my biggest fears even when driving, let alone walking in the woods. So this topic is of great interest to me. I really have nothing to add but would like to ask a question if carrying a compass would be a benefit? Or perhaps a GPS device? I know that’s not exactly roughing it but I have read they work even where there is no cell phone service. Your thoughts?

    • Chris Ray says:

      Dale I can relate, I hate getting lost, but wasn’t born with a great sense of direction, so I have spent plenty of time lost. I’m not a purest, I’m also not one of the men that refuses to stop and ask for directions. I say that anything that helps you find your way about is a good idea. Of course having a compass and knowing how to use it are a great idea, using a GPS is fine by me. If going to the woods, I like Javadog bring extra supplies, the prepper motto of “I would rather have it and not need it, then need it and not have it” is one I live by.
      I’ll be doing more on this type of topic soon, let me know if you have any specific questions.

  5. Great topic. Like Bruce, I’m gifted with a good sense of direction. Most of my foraging is done keeping the truck in sight actually, but I’ll play along with these other wonderful suggestions.

    Once I realized I hadn’t found my way in 15 minutes or so, I would stop, assess my situation and make a plan. First thing I would do is hydrate, then I’d look for one of my favorite things you can find a lot, smilax (briar) tips. I’d eat a few of those for encouragement. I keep a compass in my everyday carry, so I’d whip that out and see if I could get my bearings and depending on the surroundings and time of day I’d give it another half an hour or so of trying to find my way. If I failed then, I’d start preparing for a camp. My (out of sight of the truck) foraging bag has most everything I’d need for 2 days. If I left without my bags, improvise, improvise, improvise. Improvisation for survival takes practice also. Prepare!

    I also keep a whistle and a mirror with me, these are good signalling if anyone comes near. The whistle if you hear sounds near you and the mirror for open areas or planes and helicopters. Just in case.

    Dale, button compasses are great to carry and a laminated map to keep with you might be a good idea as well. A “good” compass is pretty light to carry also but may take some training and practice. GPS will often work when cell service won’t, so if you’d feel better with it, get one. (But what if you forgot to change or charge the batteries?) If you have an iPhone, you can get a compass app. I’m the kind of guy that likes to work on overcoming fears. Get comfortable with some skills of finding your way in the woods. Maybe look for a local course. Try local hunting clubs etc. The biggest battle when loosing your way is not to panic and keep thinking clearly. That only comes with practice I’m afraid though. Maybe read some books on it etc. Check out some online articles too;

    On YouTube, Expert Village has a series with Karl Jensen about what to do when your lost in the woods and other survival tips.

    I also suggest going out with someone who feels comfortable in the woods and create a “lost” scenario for short periods of time, with a good signal (whistle, etc.) when the time is up so you can find each other again. Practice!

    Jim Moore

    • Chris Ray says:

      Good stuff Jim. A button compass can fit in an Altiod tin mini kit. Here is a link to one I made http://preparedchristian.net/altoids-tin-or-mini-kit/

      I agree with Jim on overcoming fears, start small and get some knowledge about what to do, that will give you some confidence, just don’t get over confident.

      • Love the mini-kit. Mine is similar. I keep a Gobspark by FireSteel.com in mine along with some duct tape and some dryer lint.

        And while I’m plugging I generally keep a Pocket Gospel copy of the Book of John from The Pocket Testament League in each bag. Some good reading is always appropriate when you get lost! It’s even available in Camo!

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