Getting lost

What to do if you get lost hiking

Heading out on the trail? Plan your hike like your life depends on it – because it does. Correct planning, and the right navigation aids, will help you avoid getting lost. What do you do if you can’t find your way home safely?

Here’s a few tips

  • Don’t panic! This wastes energy and leads to poor decision making
  • Stop, stay calm and think
  • Separated from your group? Shout out then wait for a response. Don’t run blindly towards where you think they might be
  • Retrace your steps a short distance and see if you can find the trail
  • Check your map and try to determine where you are by the contours and your compass. You might need to gain some height for orientation
  • If you have no idea where you are, STAY WHERE YOU ARE!
  • If you’re in a group ALWAYS STAY TOGETHER! There is safety in numbers and rescue teams don’t need to be searching for multiple groups
  • If you have mobile reception, call 000 and ask for police. The international standard emergency number is 112, if you dial this number in Australia you will be treated exactly the same as a 000 call. In areas of marginal coverage SMS can be more reliable than voice, but 000 does not accept SMS messages. If SMS is the only way you seem to be able to connect, then you will have to SMS a friend and get them to call 000 for you
  • If you have a Spot, InReach or satellite communication device, active your emergency response.
  • Make a cuppa to help you relax (there’s a teabag in your survival kit)
  • Make your position visible to rescue teams by placing bright items (pack cover, bright clothing etc.) in an open and clearly visible area
  • If you believe your life is at risk, activate your personal locator beacon (PLB)
  • It can take time for rescuers to reach you, so your priority is to find or build a shelter to keep warm and dry. Remember to remain visible.
  • Find a water source if it’s safe to do so and ration your food and water if necessary.

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15 thoughts on “Getting lost”

    • Torches are great provided that someone can see you, the batteries don’t go flat and it is nigh time. A distress beacon will share your location no matter where you are. For less than $300 they are a good investment

    • Sometimes you can inadvertently end up on an unmarked trail.

      Generally an ounce of prevention can go a long way. When out hiking you don’t need to only consider the distance to the end, but also every single way point (such as junction, river, summit, land mark etc) along the way. Plus remember the last way point you reached. With a bit of common sense intuition this can help in aiding in figuring out where you are if you do get lost (at least reducing the potential area size down in pinpointing where you are). Plus will help prevent you getting lost in the first place e.g. you’ll know you should have reached x way point by now…

      Plus always having a good map and compass is mandatory. Whilst a smartphone certainly can help, you can easily run out of batteries. If worse comes to worse and you are not able to figure out where you could use a map and compass to navigate to a major landmark such as a river or road then work it out from there. e.g. walk due East until you hit a river and follow that downstream…

    • Haha. Not really missing the map and compass from this article as these are mentioned in the opening sentence. If you plan correctly, you should have already been carrying these and as such would not have become lost 🙂

  1. One of my favourite lost hiker stories is the one about the guy missing for 24 hours on Mt Elbert, Colorado. He ignored several calls from the rescue party because he didn’t recognise the number.

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