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What To Do If You Get Lost

{ Stop } { Ground to Air Emergency Signals } { The Uniform Distress Signal }

People react in different ways upon finding themselves lost. Those who are cool and collected usually can look back at it and laugh, those who panic donít. Panic generally results from fear of the unknown, (lack of confidence, and from not knowing what to do next). When you first realize you are lost or confused, STOP. Don't give into the reaction to keep going for 30, 10, or even 2 more minutes.


The letters of STOP have a special meaning for survival situations. They mean:





STOP: Before you do anything take off your pack and find a nice place to sit. If youíre confused it may take 30 mins. or more to regain your composure. Looking around you at the beauty of nature may help.

THINK: Study your map, (you should have one). Try to determine where you are now. If the map alone doesnít help look around for prominent landmarks. Note hills, ridges, or mountains and try to locate them on the map. Ask yourself these questions: (1) What was the last reference point I can positively identify? (2) In what direction did I come from? (3) Where on my map do I want to go? Do not make hasty judgments. If you cannot determine your way out, build a fire. A fire provides security and warmth and is conducive to clear thinking. If itís late in the day, plan to stay the night.

OBSERVE: What do you have in your pockets or pack that may help? What is the weather like? What natural resources are available? Where is a good place to set up camp?

PLAN: Plan a course of action. After considering all the aspects of your predicament, adopt a plan that will best utilize your limited energy. If you become absolutely sure you are lost or it becomes dark, stay where you are. You should only move to reach a safer or more sheltered area.

Below are ground-to-air emergency signals. They must be as big as you can make them.

Require Assistance......................................V

Require Medical Assistance..........................X

No or Negative..............................................N

Yes or Affirmative..........................................Y

Proceeding In This Direction...........................^

Since you will have to use whatever materials are available, you will need to use ingenuity to construct symbols that can be seen from the air. Green branches on white snow are one example. Stones can also be used on snow or a green open field. Strips of cloth, bits of wreckage, any way you can improvise a signal should be used. It is important to know all the codes, but if you could only make one, use the X as big as possible.

The uniform distress signal in the woods, (adopted by The American Alpine Club), is three quickly repeated signals (audible or visible), repeated at regular intervals. You may shout, blow a whistle, flash a light, or disclose a fire or smudge on the ground, or wave something three times quickly. Repeat the signal regularly.

This signal should be used only in case of actual distress.

Any hiker receiving a distress signal is morally bound to go to the rescue; the answer is two signals repeated at regular intervals until you find the victim.

If you lost or broke your compass and you knew what direction you needed (North, South, East ,or West), here are two ways to do it:

Watch Method
(You will need a watch with hands)

Hold your watch flat. Provided you can see the sun point the hour hand at it. Halfway between the hour hand and 12:00, an imaginary line points south. Example: If it is 4:50 p.m. hold your watch so the 4 is pointed at the sun. Now draw an imaninary line half way between 12 and 4, (which is 2). The 2 is true south.

Watch Method

Shadow Stick

Push a stick about 3 ft. long into the ground. In the morning put a small peg at the end of the shadow. Using a string ,with the distance from the stick to the peg as a radius), draw the arc of a circle. In the afternoon mark with another peg where the tip of the shadow hits the the arc. Draw a line between the peg for a West - East line. West is the peg you placed in the morning. Draw a line through your West - East line for North - South.

Stick Method

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