I'm Lost! Now what?

Being lost in the wilderness can be one of the most frightening things.  When you were a kid, have you ever been lost in the store and had that panic feeling?  Yeah, well multiply that times a million and knowing that a possible outcome is death.  This does not make for a fun fireside chat or enjoyable evening in the hammock.

Before our jungle expeditions, we stress this during our briefings - "if you get lost, stay put.  Don't move!"  You'd be surprised how easily it is to get turned around in the jungle.  If you are a hunter or spend time in the woods, then you know this to be true.  


  • Someone leaves camp to use the restroom.  A bit embarrassed, they want to get as far away as possible.  During the "turn and squat", their bearings get off - now they are lost.  Yes, this has happened.
  • A break in the group.  A simple gap in the group line and someone misses the trail marking.  This should never happen with proper guiding practices.    
  • Unannounced bathroom break.  Again, as not to be embarrassed, someone leaves the trail, takes off super quick to use the restroom.
  • Personal exploration.  This simply should never happen without a guide. 

In our previous post about compass navigation and using the same trail, suppose you find yourself lost.  What do you do?  How do you get back?  Yeah, scary feeling right?

The trail is roughly 440m away, not that far, really.  Thats taking into account that you are walking in the right direction. There are two things that you need to think about:

  1. Where am I and where do I need to go?
  2. The search party.

Why these two things?  When you are lost, your mind goes crazy and into panic mode.  Take a deep breath and calm down.  When you think about the search party (even if there is one), you can put yourself in their shoes.  This will allow you to make smarter decisions.  

In our illustration below - you are 440km off trail (a little more than a lap around a football field).  The average trekker walks around 2km/hour.  If you are lost and you begin walking in the wrong direction, consider the chances of you getting back to trail or the search team finding you.  Using basic math, you can see how every 30 minutes, your search circumference gets larger and larger.  Now, consider that you started walking for 1.5 hours in the wrong direction.  Your search party has no idea where you are or which direction you may be traveling.  

With every step you take, your search area grows exponentially.  

Lost Area Map.jpg

So, what do you do in the event you are lost?  

We came across a great acronym - STOP.  Stop, Think, Observe and Plan.  This is a great tool to remember.

  1. Stop/Wait - you are lost, so its obvious you don't know where you are,  Right?  When you are lost, you can start making super irrational decisions.  If you were with a group, don't move...let the group or someone come to you.  There is a plan of action that hopefully the guide knows and will execute (this in a next journal post).  

  2. Think - Where did you come from, what are some landmarks you can remember, how much time has passed since you saw someone in the group or think you left the trail?  This information will be crucial for you.     
  3. Observe - What is around you?  Any creeks, large trees, mountain, etc.  Make a simple map on the ground using sticks/rocks to try and figure out where you may be.  What is the geography like - sloping, uphill, creek bed, etc.  Is there a tree you can climb to get a birds-eye view?    
  4. Plan - This is difficult to really tease out.  How much time do you allow to pass before you set out on your own?  What time is it?  Weather conditions?  
    • Mark your spot - clearly, clearly, clearly mark where you are.  Break trees, dig up the ground, place rocks, etc.  
    • Camp/Shelter - If its late in the afternoon, I would try and find a place to set up a dry, 'safe' place to sleep.  Remember, stay put.  Perhaps the group has the same plan - start back looking in the morning.
    •  Noise - find things to make some noise.  Anything that is not a normal sound that the group can hear.

If you decide to travel and look for the trail or camp, know that you are stepping into dangerous territory.  However, you may be left with no other option.  Check out our Compass Navigation entry for some helpful hints in traveling in the woods/jungle.

Before your next adventure, think of these quick steps below.  This is by no means an exhaustive list, but for your next day or multi-day adventure, get your mind thinking in this direction.

  1. Map & Compass
  2.  Satellite Communication device
  3. GPS
  4. Whistle
  5. Simple Survival Kit 
Bryan Randolph