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Lost and Found in the Great Outdoors

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Camping and hiking is a wonderful way to get close to nature. Hiking through the wilderness is uplifting and refreshing. However, there is something important that every camper should be aware of on a camping trip.

If you're heading off into a remote area, there is always the possibility that someone, adult or child, will end up getting lost. Prepare everyone in your party ahead of time about the do's and don'ts of navigation in the wilderness.

Someday you WILL become lost if you wander the backwoods long enough. The important thing is to be prepared when it does happen.

Have you ever heard the old adage, "Indian no lost; teepee lost." Be at home in the woods, and you'll never be truly lost. A night in the woods can't be too uncomfortable if you know how to deal with the situation.

Standard advice to a lost person: Don't panic. Everyone feels some trepidation, but never loose your sense of reason. Stop and listen to common sense. Don't let fear take over your sensibilities. Even experienced woodsmen have been lost, and panicked, then lost their life after becoming disoriented, losing their reasoning abilities to panic.

Instruct children what to do if they should become separated from you. Give everyone a whistle to hang around their neck. Teach a child that if he becomes lost, people will be looking for him, and not to hide from the "strangers" that are trying to help. Of course, they should know to be cautious around strangers at all other times. A recent boy scout who was lost in a Utah wilderness, stayed hidden for several days while searchers combed the woods around him!
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Make sure your child understands that he shouldn't keep wandering when separated. Stop and wait for someone to come, instead of wandering farther away from the searchers.

Never head into the woods with out the basics along with you. Bring a map, compass, matches, and knife on every hike. You never know when something unpredicted will happen.

Bring along a compass and map of the area in which you are traveling. In these days of technology, a GPS is indispensable on wilderness backpacking and camping trips.
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Tell someone where you are going and when you expect to return. If you do this, rescuers will know where to start looking.

There are many ways to find your directions in the wilderness. The most common way is to locate the North Star at night. The wind in wilderness areas usually blows from the northwest, so the tall pine trees will lean slightly to the southeast. This is another way that can be quite accurate. The old folk tale about moss on the north side of trees, can't be relied on for positive directions, as moss can grow on all sides of a tree trunk.

Follow a stream downhill. This generally leads to civilization. (In the US that is.) Don't walk along the immediate bank, where there are many thickets, bog holes, side streams, and swamps. Follow the general water flow and it will lead you out of the woods.

When you finally realize that you are lost, stop, don't make the search into a foot race between you and the rescuers! In most parts of the US you can't be more than 24 hours away from searchers, if you will just cooperate.

Sit down think things out. Build a campsite on a riverbank or lakeshore if possible. Gather as much wood as you can before nightfall. Try to make yourself comfortable next to your campfire throughout the night.

The next morning is the time to go about getting yourself rescued. Gather up a large armful of green branch and pile them on your campfire. The smoke will billow into the air, making it simple for searchers to find you. Don't build more fires, just keep the one you have billowing smoke into the air. Sooner or later the forest service will see the smoke, and come to check out what's happening. Wave a piece of clothing (preferably light-colored) to signal that you are unhurt. Even if the plane leaves, stay put. They are probably radioing to the ground crew your location.

Stay by your fire, even when you hear people approaching. It's dangerous to leave the fire blazing. Also, the sounds in the woods can be deceiving. You may just be running in the opposite direction of the searchers if you head off after voices. Give them a chance to find you. If you have a gun, fire a shot. If not, shout loudly.

Getting lost can happen to anyone, even experience backpackers. The most important thing, is to stay sensible and help yourself by helping the searchers find you.

True wilderness survival is a matter of prevention and preparation. If you are prepared every time you enter the woods, you'll never be caught unprepared. Then you can enjoy the wilderness fully, be confident and even if you get lost, it's just another adventure!

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