By Greg Rouse
If you're ever lost in the outdoors use the S.T.O.P. acronym (sit, think, observe, plan) to control panic. You'll know what I mean about panic if you've ever been in that situation. And, if you haven't been turned around and you spend any significant amount of time in the outdoors, then it's only a matter of time before you do know what I mean. Psychologists have studied this mental state and found that without a known reference point the mind will begin to race in order to find one and if not found quickly then panic sets in.
So, if you're ever lost, use the S.T.O.P. acronym and ask yourself these questions:
What was the last point you recognized?
Can you retrace your steps? (In most search and rescue case studies there was a point at the beginning or just prior to panic, when the victim could have retraced their steps, but they failed to do so.)
Is there a place, trail, landmark you can focus on that gives you direction?
If NO to all these questions, then begin a slow systematic approach…
Slow Systematic Approach
Analysis of the terrain around you:
Landmarks (peaks, fire towers, power lines, lakes, human structures, etc…)
Stream Flow (which way is it flowing, what side of the stream were you on)
Ridgelines (which side of the ridge were you on)
Start a terrain feature search, by traveling short distances to locate landmarks or familiar terrain and/or trails.
Travel 10 minutes in the best guess direction, marking your trail back.
Return to your original position and try another direction.
In a dense forest use the prominent object method: Walk to a prominent object, marking direction of travel or the trail along the way and then repeat. If, your efforts do not turn up a known location, then return to original starting place.
Note: make sure to mark your trail with something that is easily seen and cannot be removed or washed away.
NOTE: Sometimes it's just best to hunker-down and wait for a change in the weather, morning or rescue. Also, remember that most trained searchers will assume that streams, roads, trails, power lines, and lakes are barriers. So, if an organized search is expected, stay at the barriers.
BONUS TIP: When it's getting late and you're not sure how much daylight you have, here's a little trick called Fist Time: Hold your fist straight out in front of you and set it on the horizon line, now measure how many fists to the sun. Number of fists = number of hours left until sunset. (A fist has about 15 degrees of arch and 15 degrees goes into 360, 24 times, so 1 fist = 1 hour, ½ a fist = ½ hour, etc...)
About the Author:
Greg Rouse has been teaching wilderness sports and emergency response at the university and college level for over a decade. He is also the founder of a unique web site called WildernessTrip.com, a one-stop resource for self-guided wilderness trip planning. This web site is basically; a free online guidebook that photo-documents trips with interactive maps and detailed route descriptions. Each trip has free pictures and free topographic maps of the trail, all in a print-friendly format. Check it out at http://www.wildernesstrip.com/
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