Survival tips if lost in the wild

Lost in the wild.

A man was stranded in a desolate part of the Arizona desert without food or water.

He was days away from help.

Could he survive?

It took him eight days to reach help.

He traveled some 150 miles (241 kilometers), much of it during the hottest part of the day with temperatures up to 120° F. (49° C.).

The last few miles he crawled completely naked.

The heat and lack of water so dehydrated him that he lost 25 percent of his weight, though a 10-percent loss is often fatal.

When rescued, his blood was so thick that the lacerations on his hands and knees did not even bleed until he had taken in a lot of water.

What do you conclude from this experience?

Does it show that if you have the ‘will to live’ you can survive almost anything?

Well, after relating it, a book on Survival training observed:

"He had done nothing right, had no survival training. But he wanted to survive and he did survive . . . You will encounter other stories of equally harrowing experiences . . . Don’t accept them as advice.”

Why not?

Because examples of those who have survived on nothing but willpower should be measured in the light of all those persons who have not survived, but who could have, had they acted differently.

But why should you be bothered with such matters?

Any of us can get lost

"Most people who live in cities and towns do not appreciate that there are vast areas on the earth where a simple automobile breakdown, small accident or wrong turn can spell death."

This could happen in the jungles of the Amazon or on the frozen tundras of Alaska, but it sometimes happens in countries that are well populated.

From time to time, persons have gotten lost in the countryside and died. What usually causes these people to die is ignorance of how to survive in the wild country.

Had they followed a few basic survival principles they would likely be alive today.

Take note! This is a matter that involves you. Why?

Because it is quite likely that such unnecessary deaths occur also in your land, perhaps even in areas where you drive on vacation or take a hike.

Becoming lost on foot

"Have you ever gone for a walk in the country and gotten lost for a time? Or has your car broken down and left you stranded on a deserted road far from civilization?"

If that has not yet happened, you must face the fact that it could. What should you do?

The very first thing is not to panic. The feeling of being lost is a very real one, and it can make you afraid. Control this, and then sit down and think about your predicament.

Definitely do not go rushing off in haste. You will only expend your energy and time, which are both vital for survival.

You are faced with the decision of whether you should stay where you are or you should travel.

If making important decisions is normally difficult, it is even more so when your life may hinge on what you decide.

But if ever you are in need of making a proper decision, this is the occasion. When it comes to keeping yourself alive, survival is one thing that you want to do right the first time, is it not?

Consider, are you in a location where you are reasonably sure that you soon will be found, perhaps by a passing motorist?

If so, it is better for you to remain there than to head out across the countryside where no one would even expect you to be.

Perhaps you conclude, though, that you will definitely not be found or survive where you are. But before you try to ‘walk out of it,’ ask yourself:

Am I sure of exactly where I am now? And am I certain of where and how I can reach food, water, shelter and help?"

Such advance thinking will help to prevent you from just striking off in some chance direction.

Also, think over these factors: What about food and water as I travel? At what time during the day will I travel, and what about rest?

Is there some gear available that I can take along without burdening myself down?

This final matter is important, for you may have a few things on you or in your car, such as a small knife, some cord and cloth to make a covering, matches to start a fire, that can help you to keep alive in the country.

Don’t discard your clothing. Properly used it can keep you either warm or cool, as well as protect you from wind, sun and insects.

And before you depart, leave indication of when you left and in which direction you headed. If by chance it is found, it will help rescuers to locate you.

In what direction should you move?

"If you can determine from a map in your disabled car or if you know from experience or from landmarks just where you now are, then the question is where do you want to head?"

Try to determine the nearest rescue point or location where you can find help.

So, in what overall direction will you have to travel? Perhaps it is due west, or maybe it is northwest, that is, halfway between west and north.

Now, orient yourself. While there are more exact methods involving latitude, the most elementary way is by finding the four points of the compass using the sun. It rises in the east and sets in the west.

At night, you can use the moon as a guide. It basically rises in the east and sets in the west, varying only a few points of the compass according to the time of the season.

So you can use it as a rough guide to get relative bearings.

You can also use the stars at night. In the southern hemisphere, such as in southern Africa, the Southern Cross points from true south.

If you are in the northern hemisphere, locate the Big Dipper.

Note the two stars on the outer edge. By drawing an imaginary line up through these, you will locate Polaris, also called the North Star.

You can figure it to be due north and orient yourself accordingly.

Once you have firmly fixed the compass points, you will know in which direction to strike out to reach the nearest main road, town or railway line.

But keep this in mind:

Some men who died near Ghanzi in the Kalahari Desert knew that there was a main road close by. They also knew in which direction the town of Ghanzi lay, but they failed to find either. Why? Because they could not walk in a straight line. Why is this important?"

Walking in a straight line


"This is always difficult because usually one of your legs is shorter than the other and will be inclined to push you off course without your being aware of it. In many cases, newcomers to the country have walked in complete circles within a few kilometers."

It therefore helps to take a bearing on some prominent object in the distance such as a large tree or a mountain.

Even in the flattest of country there probably will be some object in the distance that stands out.

You could climb a tree or (in Africa) an anthill to find one. (If you are traveling during the night, use a bright star near the horizon.) Walk with your eye on the object.

Every few kilometers check your bearings to make sure you are still going in the right direction.

Does it mean you will always have to walk in an absolutely straight line? That is not necessarily so.

While it is true that the object toward which you are heading should be in a straight compass line, and you should keep it in sight, it is good to follow the easiest route to reach it.

The straightest course may be across a huge marsh or a series of ponds. So curving around obstacles may get you to the object quicker and less exhausted.

Following a game trail is often wise, if it heads you somewhat toward the object that is your goal.

If you can keep the object in sight while taking the easier curved route, you can correct your course as you get closer to it.

Conserving energy

"When the cross-country trip is long or difficult, you should keep in mind the conserving of energy. What good is it going to do you to know exactly where you are going only to collapse before you get there?" 

As a general rule, if you do not have plenty of water, never walk during the heat of the day unless it is absolutely essential.

Rather, spend that time resting, in the shade if it is available. Travel during the morning and late afternoon when it is cooler.

If the day is extremely hot and you can maintain the right direction, travel by night.

By remaining inactive during the heat of the day, you conserve energy and moisture. Dehydration can spell death, and is experienced faster in the heat of the day.

Suck a small pebble or chew a leaf to keep your mouth moist.

And in extreme heat or cold, ‘Keep your mouth closed’ is good advice.

When talking to yourself, singing or breathing through your mouth, you use up more precious moisture than when you breathe through your nose.

If your water supply is low, it is sensible to cut down on your food intake, for your body must use extra water to carry off food wastes.

Finding water

"Though you may be able to get along for days or weeks without food, you cannot live very long without water. So water may be your first and most vital need. Take with you what you can, as well as a container for when you find water."

Various signs give indications of water’s being near.

The flight of a honeybee, the presence of doves and weavers or a green strip of trees in the distance likely indicate a river or a pond.

If the ground is dry, dig in the sand near vegetation and you will often find water.

Select the biggest patch of sand upstream from a natural dike, like an outcrop of rocks, and you may find water trapped in the sand below.

But don’t waste your time and energy digging for water unless there is some sign that it is present.

Finding native communities

"In the countryside where you are lost, it might be that you will be able to find nearby the dwellings of local people." 

This may be done by following any well-used footpaths; they always lead somewhere, such as to or from water, to grain fields or to homes.

Rural people are usually kind and humble and will provide a stranger with water and some food.

And they may be able to help you to communicate with your family, or with the authorities who can help you.

Sleeping in the wild

"If you are lost in the country without shelter and there are wild animals about, the safest place to sleep may be in a tree. This can be more comfortable than you expect.

Relax and be determined to make the best of your situation. You are lost. You are walking in the right direction. But now it is dark and there are wild animals about.

So, select a tree and build a platform in it.

You can do this with the branches of smaller trees, using bark to bind them together and packing the platform with twigs or with plenty of leaves to make it comfortable.

Where there are no trees you can, if you have matches, light a fire. A fire should scare off wild animals; also it may be seen by rescuers, and at least it will keep you warm.

Another means to keep warm and protected from the wind is sleeping in an empty ditch.

Or you could construct on the ground a cone-type wigwam or shelter made of branches and bushes. This is often done by Africans traveling in the country.


There are many potential dangers in the country, depending on where you are lost. It is true that experience can best teach you how to survive until help arrives.

But even just reading and thinking about basic survival techniques can be a real asset.

The main thing when one is lost or marooned is to remain calm and controlled. Then observe your surroundings and move according to this observation and good sense.