How to


after getting

Lost in the Woods

Getting lost in the woods might be one of the greatest fears of many hikers.

It is a reasonable fear because many hikers yearly get lost in the woods. Some hikers don’t make it as they die from the elements, falling, or wild animal attacks on rare occasions. But don’t let that possibility frighten you from going for a hike. You can prevent most cases from getting lost in the woods by practicing straightforward techniques.

I’ve been lost in the Shawnee National Forest countless times. But I’ve always got myself out right at or before dark. I have been lost in the Lusk Creek Wilderness after dark with a fellow trail runner. I have plenty of experience and confidence in getting out of the woods after being lost.

And in this article, I’m going to share my experience and tips with you so that you don’t have to worry about getting lost in the woods and not having a plan.

Be Prepared Before You Get Lost in the Woods

You can avoid getting lost in the woods by being prepared before you go for a hike or at least prevent the negative impacts of being lost.

The first thing you need to do is plan your hike before you go. Know where you’re going and how to navigate the area. Download a good offline app or map for your phone or GPS unit. Consider a satellite messenger setup. Take a compass and record the direction of where the trail starts before you start so that you know what way to go if you get lost in the woods.

Tell someone where you’re going to be before you go. Bring them a map of the area and circle the spots you plan to hike—Circle where you’ll park your vehicle and go into the trail. If something happens and you don’t make it out of the woods, that person can send help to you, and they’ll have an idea of where you are.

Make sure you bring gear that will make you comfortable if you get lost in the woods. This would include extra layers to get warm, an oversized rain poncho to be used as a shelter, fire-making tools, extra water, extra snacks and food, a knife, a whistle, a first aid kit, a flashlight with extra batteries, and your navigation equipment.

Taking steps to prevent or be prepared for getting lost in the woods will make the potential experience less dangerous and less scary.

Lost in the Woods

What to do if do get lost?

The first thing you need to do if you get lost in the woods is not panic. Panicking will not get you back on the right path. It will worsen and stop you from making the right decisions because you’re not thinking straight. If you’re lost, stop, take a deep breath, and don’t panic because it will be okay – you got this.

Think about where you are. Go over in your head how you got to where you are. Can you turn around and walk back the way you came? Can you look for landmarks that you noticed along the way? Maybe a tree or a rock or something like that. Don’t start moving in any direction until you stop; look around and think about where you are. Most of the time, when doing this, you’ll realize how to get back on track.

Look for signs of the trail. Are there any blazes, such as white diamond blazes hanging on trees? Can you notice your footprints from where you were walking? How about broken twigs and disturbance in the undergrowth where you were walking? Look for any sign to get back to the trail. Take your compass out and point it in the direction of where you started at. You can also tell what direction you’re going in based on the sun.

Once you’re lost in the woods, you can usually find your way back to where you started or the trail by stopping and looking around. You need to ensure you don’t let panic take over, or it will confuse you even further.


What if you Get Lost in the Woods after Getting Hurt?

Sometimes you get lost in the woods because you’ve gotten hurt, creating an entirely different situation altogether.

If you can function while injured, you must do whatever you can to stay calm. Panicking and stressing out will only further put you at risk of injury. It’s hard to remain calm when you’re hurt and lost, but you have to if you want to survive.

I told you to bring a whistle just in case something like this happened. You don’t need to move with an injury unless you have to stay alive. You need to stay put and start blowing that whistle. But don’t over-exert yourself. Take breaks. Take deep breaths. Don’t panic. If you don’t have a whistle, check your backpack chest straps. Some pack manufacturers put whistles into the strap latches. If you have a personal locator beacon (PLB), enable it immediately.

If you don’t have a PLB or a whistle, you should yell and scream for help. Just remember to take breaks, so you don’t wear yourself out and cause further injury to yourself.


Tips for Not Getting Lost

The best way to avoid getting lost in the woods is by not getting lost in the first place. Here are some essential tips on how you can avoid getting lost during your hikes:

  1. Have some navigation that you know how to use
  2. Stay on the trail at all times, don’t leave the trail
  3. Try not to hike alone until you’re confident about solo hiking
  4. Choose trails that are commonly used by others
  5. Don’t hike on overgrown and unmaintained trails
  6. Don’t forget to pack essential gear and remember to tell someone where you’re going


Getting lost in the woods can be a scary thing to experience. But you can easily find your way back by following the advice above. I’ve found some of the most incredible things I’ve ever seen due to being lost. It made me better at navigation, which is what I suggest you do. Thank you for reading this article, and subscribe to my newsletter for more hiking tips.

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Thanks again for checking out another one of my articles and until next time, I’ll see you on the trail!

Shawn Gossman

Shawn Gossman

Founder, Hiking with Shawn

Howdy folks! My name is Shawn Gossman and I founded Hiking with Shawn. I’m an avid hiker, cyclist and outdoorsman here in the Shawnee National Forest. I was born and raised in Southern Illinois and never want to leave. Click here to learn more about Shawn Gossman

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