14 dos and don’ts when you’re lost in the woods

14 Dos And Don’ts When You’re Lost In The Woods

Whatever the reason, you might one day find yourself in an outdoor survival situation.

Maybe you’re on a trip with family or friends, one thing leads to another and before you know it you’re lost.

When that happens, a million things will race through your head.

Things like:

    • Where did I come from?
    • What I have done wrong?
    • I should have gone left instead of right.
    • Do I keep walking in that direction or should I walk in that direction or should I sit and wait for someone to find me?

From the beginning, it’s important to take a survivor’s mindset.

This means that there are things you should and shouldn’t do to stay energetic and safe.

Here I present you 14 do’s and don’ts when you find yourself in a survival situation in the forest.

What to do if you get lost in the forest?

The first thing that happens when you get lost is inevitably panic.

This is also completely natural as not knowing where you are is an unsettling feeling.

Or which direction you should go. Or when nobody hears you anymore.

We humans no longer know disorientation.

The best thing to do when it happens: stops, sit and collect yourself.

Panic leads to bad decisions that only make a situation worse.

Give yourself a break and acknowledge that this is not the time to criticize and feel sorry for yourself.

There will be time for that when you get home. You need a motivating spirit from now on.

Do your best to maintain a positive and productive mindset.

1. Retrace your first steps

There are situations where it is not advisable to retrace your steps.

For example, if you choose the wrong direction, you will get even more lost.

However, if you’re not too far off the main trail, have navigational aids, or can determine safe direction, retracing your steps may be your best option.

2. Assess the situation

When you’ve reached a point where you know you’re lost and will likely be spending the night under the stars, it’s time to take a good look at the situation.

Gather all the supplies you have. That means turning each bag inside out.

Follow the Rule of 3 to prioritize what you need to do and keep your mind busy with productive tasks.

Also, listen to your gut. If you have a nagging feeling that something is wrong, pay attention and tread carefully.

3. Power up your perception

When you’re in the forest, you’re just another animal in the forest – and animals only stay alive if they’re constantly alert.

As you move, always be aware of what is behind and in front of you.

Use your peripheral vision to scan the pages while walking.

Pay attention to animal tracks and animal faeces. Avoid areas where animals are likely to be, such as where they are eating or drinking.

Pay attention to the story nature tells birdsong, animal behaviour, weather patterns, etc.

4. Leave a trail

This is a tactic you should use from the start of your journey to avoid getting lost or further lost.

The technique is when you use whatever you have on hand to mark the path you are taking.

Trees can be marked with a knife, branches can be bent or broken, arrows can be drawn or signal tapes can be hung up.

It is helpful to place these signs as visible and directional as possible.

14 Dos And Don’ts When You’re Lost In The Woods

5. Stay next to a vehicle

This advice applies to a great many cases, but it depends strictly on the circumstances.

However, if you are lost and there is a vehicle (car, boat, plane, etc.) it is generally best to stick with the vehicle.

There are two reasons.

    • The first is that the vehicle provides resources like shelter.
    • The second reason is that a vehicle is much easier to spot than a person by a rescue team (e.g. from an aeroplane).

But now imagine that a person knows the direction to the rescue. She has the supplies, skills and abilities to advance safely. What to do?

Then the person should decide whether to save himself or not.

Therefore, make sure you always pack an auto survival kit so that you have the necessary items to survive.

14 Dos And Don’ts When You’re Lost In The Woods

6. Make noises while moving

Making noise while walking through the forest is a precaution in the forest with predators (mainly in bear country). One thing you don’t want to do is surprise an animal that can be dangerous to you.

But this tactic doesn’t just apply to predators. While you may feel lost, people could be just over the hill or around the next bend.

You can draw attention to yourself by singing or making noises.

7. Keep your hands to yourself

When you walk through the forest, keep your hands to yourself.

From poisonous plants, biting insects, thorns, snakes and anything else that hides in plain sight, it is best to keep your hands to yourself.

Remember that your hands are your most important tools. You need them for countless purposes and therefore they deserve special protection.

What not to do if you get lost in the woods

8. Don’t run

Running when you’re first lost is only to give in to your panicked feelings.

Let it be because when racing in a panic you’ll probably break all your bones.

Exception: unless there is an immediate danger to safety and life.

Running fast drastically increases the likelihood of an injury, which you may or may not recover from.

Almost anything in a survival situation should be done slowly and deliberately for the safest outcome.

9. Do not eat or drink what the animals consume

Consuming what animals eat is one of the survival myths that are wrong.

Animals are used to drinking and eating from the environment in which they live.

Just because they can, doesn’t mean it’s safe for humans.

Always go through the steps to make water drinkable and make sure your food sources clearly identified that are safe for human consumption.

14 Dos And Don’ts When You’re Lost In The Woods

10. Stay away from fringes

When you come to a vantage point on a hill or ledge, stay away from the edges. If a person becomes dizzy or disoriented, they may lose their balance.

Also, there may not be much dirt or rocks beneath these areas. This can easily give way under a person’s weight.

The same applies when walking along river banks that have been washed away by the current.

11. Don’t step over a log

It’s not a good idea to step over a log without knowing what’s on the other side.

Sounds strange at first, doesn’t it? But look:

Logs can hide lying animals like a snake, or hide holes that can easily turn an ankle. If you come across a log (or other objects), it’s a safe practice to take a moment to look before stepping on it.

14 Dos And Don’ts When You’re Lost In The Woods
In an emergency situation, you should never take risks.

12. Avoid water, stay dry

Although drinking water is essential, you should keep yourself away from the water.

Especially if you are in a cold environment or an environment with large temperature swings. Then getting wet is never a good idea.

This may seem obvious, but it’s also easily forgotten, especially on a small scale.

Walking or wading through a shallow stream seems fine, doesn’t it?

Unfortunately, no! While only part of clothing gets wet, it can still have a major negative impact once low temperatures hit.

13. Avoid strong smell

The smell of cooked food attracts predators. If you want to cook quickly and safely, dispose of leftovers by burying them.

Also, do not take food in your tent/tarp or your erected shelter but store them safely in another place, far away from where you sleep.

In South Africa, there was a case where teenagers at a wilderness camp didn’t heed the advice of the rangers not to keep any food in their tents.

A youth who was picking up food in the tent was bitten on the face by a hyena following the smell of food.

Wash your hands and brush your teeth more or less before you go to sleep to make sure the smell of meat doesn’t linger on you.

If you find it necessary, leave them to burn a fire all night.

14 Dos And Don’ts When You’re Lost In The Woods
The strong smell attracts animals – including large predators that can be dangerous to you

14. Never throw anything away

Even if something seems completely useless, I recommend keeping it for as long as possible.

In a survival situation, what you carry is all you have. And you never know when or how something might be used.

Also gather resources along the way. These may not be available at your destination.


There are many things to consider in a survival situation. If you don’t do it, things can get dicey pretty quickly.

The above tips are important when you are out in the woods. In a desert or a snowy tundra, other tips apply.

Wherever you are: slow down, be thoughtful of your actions and take care of yourself!

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