What to Do if You Get Lost in the Woods

Rilor Staff
Update: June 16, 2022
Table of Contents

Being lost in the forests or the woods is nightmare fuel. Nobody wants to get stuck in that situation, regardless of how experienced a person is. Outdoor enthusiasts are trained to prevent such an ordeal from happening. 

However, if you happen to find yourself in the said predicament, the best thing that you can do is to find every means to survive. Of course, you also need to try your best to find your way back. 

There are a lot of things that you must do here. But the most critical among them is to remain calm and composed. If your mind is at ease, you can think faster and better, preventing you from making foolish, life-threatening decisions. 

Planning Is Important In Any Outdoor Pursuits

Before any unprecedented things happen, outdoor goers have to implement the necessary planning skills. Essentially, they have to plan in advance for the things that they could encounter--even if there's a little chance that they will happen. 

In this aspect, the following essentials should be included in your trip:

  • Sufficient water and food supply.
  • Compass or map that you know how to use; you may also opt for GPS devices, but keep in mind that they are limited by their batteries or signals.
  • Sturdy outdoor gear, such as hiking boots and layers. You should also consider the weather condition so that you can pick the appropriate clothing. Bringing an extra shirt or undergarments might be essential in some cases.
  • Blankets, fire starters, and matches should be stored in waterproof containers.

Many people also ignore the importance of telling someone where you are going. Of course, we are not saying that you announce to the world that you are going on a hiking or camping trip. That makes you prone to stalkers and criminal acts. The only people you should share this information with are the ones that you trust. Tell them where you are heading, the date of the adventure, and the planned return date. You may also want to indicate the vehicle that you are riding and the people who are with you on your trip.

Again, being prepared is necessary. And that means that your mental fortitude must be present. Once you realize that you are lost, you need to make sure that you keep optimistic at all times. Any sign of panic would hinder your decision-making. 

How To Survive If You Get Lost In The Forest?

There are various things that you can do to ascertain your survival while outdoors. Being observant and implementing situational awareness are among these things. 

But what does this mean? In the context of getting lost, the first thing that you need to do is to stop. If you suspect that you can no longer find your way, halt your hike. If you keep on moving, you are just wasting energy. At the same time, it may worsen your situation since it can lead you deeper into the woods. Rescue would be a lot more difficult. 

Now that you are at a halt, it is time to do the following things. 


Instead of panicking and going anxious, it is recommended that you take a good repose first. This helps you regain the lost strength during your trip. Look for a shaded area, drink water, and eat food. 

Don't forget to regulate your breathing. This could help you ease your panic and anxiety. Take ample time to rest and collect yourself. Doing so will make you think better and assess your next moves. 

Trace Your Steps

Once you have rested, it is time that you retrace your steps. You can do this mentally by thinking about the path that you have taken minutes or hours ago. Try to remember landmarks, specific path patterns, or any indicators that could help you track your way back. This is where maps come helpful. If you have a map of your current destination, you will be able to trace your way back faster. 

Check Your Phone

If you have a phone, utilize it. But the thing is, it is not that easy to get a signal in the middle of a forest. You are fortunate if there's a signal, but if there's none, then your phone would be useless.

Let's say that you have a phone signal. That's good. You can make an emergency call to authorities or to trusted individuals. Now, you will just wait for rescue to come. You may also use the GPS service of your phone so that you can get an idea of your current location. 

Don't overuse your phone, though, as you should preserve its battery. It would be better if you could put it on power-saver mode so that it can last long. 

Create A Trail

Once you decide to start moving, you would need to mark your trail. In this way, you will be able to trace your way back accurately even if you stumble in an incorrect direction. Stones, twigs, and tangible markers would help here. 

When choosing a path, make sure that you choose the one that is easy to navigate. Furthermore, don't walk for a straight hour before you decide to turn back, especially if the route leads to nowhere.

Make A Temporary Shelter 

If you can't still find your way, then the next thing that you need to do is to create a shelter. One of the things that you need to learn here is that the quality of your shelter can lead to your survival. 

Hence, it is important that you choose the correct location. Make sure that you pitch your shelter somewhere dry. If possible, it should have a natural shade so that rain won't get your stuff. Don't place your shelter on low-lying locations, rivers, and creek beds.

But what if you don't have a tent? That's a problem, but it has a solution, as well. The most difficult aspect here is making a reliable roof beam. This means that you need to look for branches that are sturdy enough to hold some weight. 

Once you have found a roof beam, place it against a tree. Then look for small branches that you can learn on other sides of the tree. Don't forget to leave a space where you can enter/leave. 

Insulation is also an important aspect of your make-shift shelter. You may have a jacket or sleeping bag with you. They should give you an ample degree of warmth. But you want to maximize the heat retention of your shelter. It should be able to block wind and prevent heat from escaping. Fortunately enough, the forest has lots of leaves that you can utilize.

Gather a lot and stick them to the top and sides of your shelter. You may also put some leaves inside, especially if you don't have a sleeping bag with you. After piling the leaves in your shelter, you will have a large mound that is windproof and almost water-resistant. 

Make Fire

Another thing that you should consider doing is making a fire. To do this, you need to look for a spot that is clear and not in the way of the wind. Don't start a fire in an area with dry vegetation. Otherwise, you might cause forest fires. 

Collect various tinder materials, such as grass, tree bark, and dead leaves. You will also need kindling materials to start the fire, such as small twigs and tree bark here. Of course, don't forget wood logs since they are the ones that can maintain the fire throughout the night. Look for dry, mold-free pieces of wood.

Put the tinder on the ground and pile the kindling materials around it. Make sure that there's enough opening in the tinder because that's where you are going to light the fire. 

Check this video on how to start a fire without using lighter or matches:

Find Clean Water To Drink

Water is an essential aspect of survival. You can only survive three days without it. Hence, it should be a priority that you have enough water sources to keep you going. 

  • One way of acquiring water is through snow, rain, and other forms of precipitation. You need a container here to catch them. 
  • If you can find a water body, such as a river or lake, you can take your drink there. The river should not be stagnant. Meanwhile, large lakes and rivers tend to be polluted.
  • Once you have your water, create a make-shift filter to remove the debris and gunk. Pour the water you gathered on porous objects, such as a clean shirt or cloth. 
  • After that, boil the water through any container that you have. If you don't have one, then you can also boil water in a plastic, paper, or wooden container. 


It is essential that you learn and master all the survival tips that we have listed here. You'll never know when you'll lose your way in the woods. At the core of those strategies, a calm and collected mind should be on the top. Feelings of despair and panic may reduce your chances of finding your way back. 

Of course, planning is an important aspect here. If you plan your trip, you won't get lost at all. You should put paramount importance on it.

Until next time. Stay safe!

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