Finding Your Way Back To Civilization

Lost in the woods

Finding Your Way Back To Civilization

In some cases, much to an individual’s detriment they panic when they realize they are lost in the wilderness. Panicking will only get you injured, burn more calories (valuable energy) and cause you to consume more water. Hikers, hunters and outdoor enthusiast are always astounded to find themselves lost because they only stepped off the trail a few yards because nature called or they wanted to check on something they spotted from the trail.

People not accustomed to the wilderness just naturally assume that if they get lost they just need to reverse course as if they were on a highway and missing an exit simply means you turn around at the next one.

Keep in mind that becoming lost is one thing but not having the proper essentials to survive even if you know where you are at is as dangerous as being lost.

Experienced hikers and hunters can become lost as well. People tend to only pack enough essentials for the time they expect to be in the wilderness, never accounting for the “what ifs”. Hikers and hunters that have been over the same trail numerous times will leave their compass and map home convinced they know the way. What they do not account for is what happens if you leave the trail for whatever reason. Anything can cause you to step off the trail into unfamiliar wilderness. In a matter of minutes you can become disoriented and panicked and can even travel farther from the trail because you think it is just around the next tree.

It is not the fact you became lost, but the fact you were not prepared to become lost. You cannot assume regardless of your experience and training that you will not find yourself lost or stranded at some point. The ones that survive being lost prepared to become lost.


As hard as it might be, stopping and evaluating your situation can save your life. Think, did you let someone know your plans, is a vehicle parked somewhere close to where you entered the woods that someone will notice and can rescuers assume that is your starting point. If you know or suspect someone knows your general whereabouts then you should stay in one place and make shelter and a fire before dark. If you realize that no one back home knows your plans then you must still shelter overnight and then possibly make plans to self-rescue.

Experts will tell you to stay in one place and allow rescue personnel to come to you. However, there may be circumstances where you have to hike your way out and find civilization on your own.

Shelter in place for the first night, and never attempt to hike out in the darkness it is simply too dangerous for a variety of reasons. You want to be fresh and as well rested as possible to start out with in the morning. You also have to keep in mind that you may have to shelter again before you can find help and you must have shelter made before dark, so plan accordingly as you hike out.

Regardless of where you are at in the world, towns and cities likely built up around major waterways. Large rivers usually will have settlements along them and if that river flows to a coastal area, the settlements will be closer to the coast. Follow any stream or river downstream.

Railroad tracks lead to and from towns and cities and if you come upon a set, you simply have to decide which direction to travel. A town can be only a few miles in one direction or a day’s walk if you go in the other direction.

Overhead power lines indicate civilization but you have to keep in mind the lines can run for miles in any direction before they reach homes and towns.

Once you have decided to walk out you have made it very difficult for rescuers to find you, so walking out of your predicament cannot be an impulsive decision. You must know with some certainly that no one back home will report you missing and that no one can give any information to rescue personnel.

If you know, you are in a coastal area finding the coast usually means you will find people. Follow birds and walk into the wind to find the coast. The wind will blow off the water inland. You may be miles from the sea but you may be able to smell the water. Look for scavenger birds overhead because they will always be around towns and seashores.

Do not walk up hill if it can be avoided, this will take you away from the coast and most water sources and ultimately away from civilization. When you stop, for breaks or for the night stop well before dark and build a fire to create smoke that can be seen.