Lost? 9 Tips to Survive in the Woods

If you grow up spending a lot of time outdoors, you sometimes forget that it’s even possible to get lost. It almost seems like a sixth sense to just know where to go, and how to find your way back.

Just remember, no one plans to get lost, and even the most skilled person can make a mistake, get injured, meet with terrible conditions, or let their attention slide.

How I Know About Being Lost…

hunting night lost

For me, it was when I was spending some time out in Wyoming. I invited my sister to come out and we went out  in the beautiful Wasatch forest. We both grew up in the Pennsylvania countryside, and always knew our way around any woods we’d ever been in. We were young, and thought we could easily handle a trip out for the day no matter what happened – we were country girls!

Well, we got to laughing, chatting, and catching up, and before you know it we were deeper in than we had anticipated. It’s embarrassing to admit, but as night was coming, we realized that we were lost…and had no real supplies.

It took a long time and a bit of luck to find our way out, but it gave us enough of a wake-up call that we didn’t want to be left unprepared like that ever again.

9 Tips to Survive A Night in the Woods

1. Don’t Panic

If you’ve ever been lost, you know the feeling. There is a moment you recognize that you are likely not coming out of the woods that night, and your stomach drops. The trick is to keep your wits about you, keep a level head, and just go to “Plan B.” Oh, and you’d better have a Plan B with the items in your pack.

2. Even if you have GPS, carry a Backup Compass

Things happen that you don’t plan. You might run out of charge for the GPS, your instrument could break (or fall in the water or on a rock), and you just never know. It’s smart to carry a small compass that will never fail no matter what…and know how to use it.

It might sound silly, but a lot of people are so reliant on GPS, that they genuinely don’t know how to use a compass. Take the time to learn (it’s easy) and it could really save you down the road.

3. Carry some Warm Gear…even if it’s Warm Out

Even if on a quick scouting venture, packing up an extra fleece  doesn’t take up as much room as you think. You will thank us later if you get stuck in the cold without one –  evenings sometimes get colder than you imagine.

4. Pack a Small Survival Kit

You should look for a survival kit that’s small (you’re more likely to pack it that way), and contains essentials in both surviving outdoors (rope, etc..) as well as some basic medical supplies.

5. Bring a Contractor Bag

A big, 55-gallon contractor bag is thick, windproof and waterproof. You can use it to assist in a shelter, and it can be used as an emergency poncho (with some creative face-hole cutting).

Although not common, if you can find contractor bags in a color other than black, they can even help with visibility. Pack two if you really want to be secure – they’re light and very versatile.

6. Never forget the Magnesium Fire-Starter

This is a must. Put this in a zipper sealed sandwich bag and also pack some cotton balls soaked with Vasoline in a zipper sealed bag as well (waterproof).  The cotton balls will burn long enough to help you start a decent fire even if it is pretty windy or wet.

7. Bring Something to Signal

If your small survival kit doesn’t have it – be sure to pick up a mirror and/or a whistle. You might think you’re pretty loud, but your voice doesn’t travel half as far as that whistle can.

8. A Great Knife

A foldable, small knife you can rely on is as valuable as they come. You can cut rope, your contractor bag, or something to make a tourniquet out of if you’re injured.

9. Two Nutrition Bars and Two Bottles of Water

The last thing you want if you are lost, is to become light-headed and weak. While some people might also bring something like a water filter or purifier, this list is meant to be only overnight, hoping you can find your way back the following day.

Final Tips!

woman prepared to hike

  • Pre-Pack! We recommend keeping these things packed in a small bag that you grab anytime you are leaving the house, even for a quick trip out to the woods. 
  • Customize it! This is just a general list, so feel free to also include anything that might help you further in your particular area (like bear spray), or with a particular medical condition you have (daily medication that you must take).  

Make it a habit to grab the bag every time you go out, go with a buddy if you can, and always tell someone (or leave a note) approximately where you are going and when you plan to get back.