Survival When You're Lost

Survival When You're Lost

No matter how prepared you are for a wilderness adventure, something can still go wrong. This shouldn't scare you away from the great outdoors, but you should learn how to survive until help arrives.

Stay Calm

The first step is the most important: stay calm and assess your situation. Overcome the onset of fear by remaining still and breathing deeply. Evaluate your surroundings before you move. You might realize you're not far from the right path, or notice resources that can help you.


Start your shelter early, even before you send your GPS distress call. Staying warm and dry is your first priority, even above food and water. You're best off on dry ground in a quiet area, with a windbreak of some kind, like a large tree.

The principle of a warm shelter is stopping the wind and forming air pockets around yourself to create insulation. Pile up leaves and debris to make a bed that gets you off the ground, and then surround it with anything you can find that will help block wind, like rocks, fallen branches, or snow.

Once you have your walls and bedding, you'll need to cover yourself. Forest debris that will stay together, like bundles of long grass, can be piled up over you in your shelter. Remember, it’s the air pockets that keep you warm. If you have a waterproof blanket, tarp, or garbage bag, use it as your top layer to stay dry.


Cold will kill you faster than thirst, so if your shelter isn't warm enough on its own, you need fire. Line your fire pit with stones (but not river rocks — they'll crack) to keep it contained and off the ground. Collect plenty of fuel. Light a bundle of tinder and gently blow on it to create a flame, lay kindling over it in a grid, and then add dry wood for fuel. Fires need air, so don't pack the fuel too densely.

If it's very windy, build a firewall to protect your fire and direct heat toward your shelter.

Water and Food

If you're near a stream or spring, you're in luck, but if not you can melt snow or collect rain, condensation, or even morning dew. Treat your water with purifying tablets, filtration, or boiling for at least a minute. Never eat snow without melting it first — it lowers your body temperature.

For food, you'll need high-calorie snacks like nuts, fatty meat, or even candy bars. You can make your rations last longer by conserving energy and staying warm.

Being Prepared

Even if you're only expecting to be out for a few hours, bring the necessities for a worst-case scenario. Having the right tools can mean the difference between life and death.

What You Need:

·Sturdy pocketknife or multi-tool

·100 feet of military-issue paracord (not a retail imitation)

·Compass and map


·A first-aid kit and the knowledge to use it

·Large, heavy-duty plastic garbage bag

·Sunglasses and sunscreen

·Reflective duct tape

·Firestarters (waterproof matches, flint and steel, etc.)

·Tinder (you can buy prepackaged tinder or make your own — Vaseline-coated cotton balls are great)

·Satellite phone with GPS tracking

·Satellite phone solar charger and battery pack

·Flashlight (or headlamp) and extra batteries

·Emergency food supplies (MREs, trail mix, survival rations; high-fat, high-calorie foods that keep until needed)

·Mess kit

·Water bottles and a collapsible water collection reservoir

·Water treatments (tablets, purification straws, etc.)

These items increase your chances of survival a hundred fold. You will be safe, dry, hydrated, and fed while you await rescue.