What To Do When You Get Lost
Knowing how to get yourself out of a sticky situation when you get hopelessly lost will make you more confident and capable outdoors
It’s the wilderness areas of the great outdoors that seem to have the biggest pull on our imaginations – the feeling of cresting a hill and looking down into a valley seemingly untouched by human hands is hard to beat – you know you really have succeeded in getting away from it all. Of course, navigation is essential when you’re this far out, and as any hill walker will tell you, we all get lost sometimes.
So, what do you do when you’ve lost your bearings or your smartphone GPS has died? Fortunately there are some simple steps you can take to get back on the right track...
I like the old Navy Seals mantra of “slow is smooth and smooth is fast” – if you’re trying to rush something then you will mess it up
Water Can Find A Way
The natural instinct if you get lost is to head to higher ground, so you can see more of the landscape and orientate yourself. But if low cloud or fog has rolled in then this isn’t always the case, and you may end up on risky terrain in the mountains.
Instead, Lerwill recommends heading downwards until you hit water, and then get your map out. ‘There are probably only a few water points on that map and you can usually tell which way they are flowing, and then you can follow that flow. One of the things that annoyed me about the Blair Witch Project was, why didn’t they just follow the damn river so they didn’t walk in circles?’ Following a river or stream allows you to see what possible feature it could be on a map and water usually leads to a bridge or a road – then you can work out where you are.
When All Else Fails
If you’re well equipped and prepared and at least have a map, then you can find your way – but what if everything goes wrong, you lose your kit and get totally disorientated? It’s no surprise that the Royal Marine Commandos train for this and Lerwill has a fix: ‘When you look at the map and where you are going, if the major road is running from north to south on the east of the map (as a diagonal) then if I get lost, all I need to do is set east on my compass and walk, and I will hit that road.’
Think of it as your ‘escape and evasion’ plan. A bit of preparation before your hike means that you know what to do if you lose everything and need to do an emergency evacuation, even if it means walking five or ten miles. ‘I’ve got one of those tiny compasses you can put on a watch strap, which is quite a good thing to have if you lost everything else.’
Take this knowledge with you into the great outdoors and you’ll enjoy the challenge even more, knowing that you can always find your way home, no matter what.
Words: Matt Ray
Photos: Matt Ray @The_Adventure_Fella, Andrea Hills