If you’ve ever been lost or turned around outdoors, then you know what I mean about panic. And, if you haven’t been turned around and spent a significant amount of time outdoors, then it’s only a matter of time before you know what I mean.
Psychologists have studied this mental state and found that in a survival situation without a known reference point, the mind will begin to race to find one and if not found quickly, then panic sets in.
So, if you’re ever lost in a survival situation, use the S.T.O.P. acronym (Sit, Think, Observe, Plan) and ask yourself these questions:
- What was the last point you recognized?
- Can you retrace your steps? (In most search and rescue case studies, there was a point at the beginning or just before panic when the victim could have retraced their steps, but they failed to do so.)
- Is there a place, trail, or landmark you can focus on that gives you direction?
- If NO to all these questions, then begin a slow, systematic approach…
Slow Systematic Approach
When lost in a survival situation, one of the survival skills to learn is the slow, systematic approach. Here’s a breakdown:
- Analysis of the terrain around you:
- Landmarks (peaks, fire towers, power lines, lakes, human structures, etc.)
- Stream Flow (which way is it flowing, what side of the stream was you on)
- Ridgelines (which side of the ridge was you on)
- Start a terrain feature search by traveling short distances to locate landmarks, familiar terrain, and/or trails.
- Travel 10 minutes in the best guess direction, marking your trail back.
- Return to your original position and try another direction.
- In a dense forest, use the prominent object method: Walk to a prominent object, marking the direction of travel or the trail along the way, and then repeat. Return to the original starting place if your efforts do not turn up a known location.
- Note: make sure to mark your trail with something that is easily seen and cannot be removed or washed away.
Note: Sometimes, it’s just best to hunker down and wait for a change in the weather, morning, or rescue. Having the survival skills to build a shelter and wait is one of the basic survival skills everyone who ventures into the outdoors should have. Also, remember that most trained searchers will assume that streams, roads, trails, power lines, and lakes are barriers. So, if an organized search is expected, stay at the barriers.