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Inside The Outdoors

What To Do If You Get Lost While Hiking

24.09.2021 | Hiking Hints & Tips

Mountain safety should be carefully considered before embarking on a hike in the mountains, but even with careful planning of your route getting lost can happen. So what should you do if you get lost hiking in the mountains? Our top tips should help you prepare for this eventuality.

Lost hiker with backpack checks map to find directions in wilder


There are several steps you can take before you go hiking which will help ensure your safety if you do get lost:

  • Make sure you tell someone where you are going and when you will be back. This means if you do not arrive when expected the person can raise the alarm that you might be lost.
  • Learn a bit about your route and what to expect on it i.e. landmarks and also what dangers there are.
  • Have a map and compass and know how to use them.
  • Take an emergency kit just in case you get lost.
  • Check the weather forecast and when sunset is.
  • Make sure you have a fully charged phone with emergency contact numbers in it i.e. mountain rescue.
  • Do not go hiking alone.

On hike

There are several steps whilst on your hike which can make it easier to find your way home if you get lost:

  • Constantly look for landmarks and try and locate them on your map.
  • Every so often look behind you. This may look strange to other hikers but it will help you familiarise with the route back to safety.
  • If you have a camera take some photos of the way you have walked, using your arm to point the direction to go. This will help you recognise the route home later.
  • If you are worried about not being able to find your way home make some arrows on the ground with loose rocks and branches. Make sure you destroy these on the way back.

Once lost

  • Do not panic. That is the worst thing you can do and will likely cause things to get worse.
  • Follow the STOP rule

Stop – As soon as you realise you may be lost, stop, stay calm and stay put. If you keep going you are likely to get even more lost. Sit down, drink some water and eat something.

Think – How did you get to where you are? What landmarks should you be able to see? Were you heading North or West? Where were you when you were last sure you knew where you were?

Observe – What can you see? Where on the map is it? Where is the sun in the sky? Roughly how long until sunset? What does the weather look like it is going to be? What supplies do you have? How long will they last?

Plan – Never move until you have a plan. Based on your thinking and observations, come up with some possible plans and then act on the best one.

  • Check for phone coverage. If you have some then you can call for help. They may be able to explain how to get home or they may come to get you.
  • Use a whistle to try and attract attention. Three blasts is the universal signal for help.
  • If you have any bright items get them out as it will make it easier for a rescuer to find you.
  • If you are confident enough you may wish to try and retrace your steps to find the path you were on earlier.

Staying the night

  • Find a sheltered spot that will keep you from the rain and wind before it gets too dark
  • You will likely need to put on extra layers to avoid hypothermia setting in.
  • Do not sleep beside a river as the noise might mean you cannot hear a rescuer.
  • Start a small controlled fire. This will give you some warmth but also the smoke is a good way to signal for help.
  • Create a HELP or SOS sign with rocks in a clearing. This will make you more visible from the air.
  • Hang any colourful items of kit from tree branches around you. This will make it easier for a rescuer to find you.