How to Survive Being Lost in the Woods: Staying Alive

Man in Wood survival

People all over enjoy camping and hiking in the woods. Whether you are going for a day trip, or a week long camping adventure, the woods can be one of the most serene places around. People go to the woods to get away, spend time with nature, or maybe they are just looking for an adventure. While the woods can be one of the best places to camp, it is not without its dangers.

Between wildlife, weather, and the vastness of the woods, it is easy to find yourself in a dangerous situation. We will go over how to survive being lost in the woods, and all the information you will need to make sure that every situation is escapable.

Preparation: The Name of The Game

No matter what you are doing or where you are going, it is important to always be prepared in case you find yourself lost. While it is impossible to always have everything you will need on you, a few key items can make a life or death difference when it comes to survival in the woods.

Equipment List:

  • Water Bottle
  • Lightweight Cord (nylon or a similar material)
  • Waterproof Matches
  • Waterproof Fire Stick
  • First Aid (Bandages, Alcohol Wipes, Gauze)
  • Utility Knife
  • Small amount of Aluminum Foil
  • Pen / Permanent Marker
  • Whistle
  • Small Collapsible Pot
  • Protein Bar

With the above listed items you will be prepared for most all situations, and have the necessary gear to get through most survival situations. Make sure that wherever you are going, you have a highly detailed map of the area you will be going to as well as a compass.

survival equipment you should bring

These are lifesaving items that are necessary any time you are hiking, camping, picnicking, or doing anything else in the woods! A final note of preparation: anytime you are going into the woods you should tell a friend or family member where you will be going, and for how long you will be gone. This will make sure that someone will eventually start looking for you in the event you get lost.

Now let’s go over what to do if you find yourself lost in the woods.

Stop and Evaluate

If you find yourself wandering around for a while, trying to find your way back to the path, and suddenly realize that you have no idea where you are anymore, then you need to STOP. The moment that you think you might be lost you should stop and get your bearings.

stop and evaluate situation

The more you walk, the more lost you will become, you have a better chance to go deeper into the woods than you do getting to back your campground or trail.

What time is it?

Your first action should trying to figure out what time of the day it is, and how close you are to night. If you do not have a watch on you, then you will need to use your compass to determine what section of the day you are.

Using your compass, determine which direction is North and then determine where the sun is relative to North. Remember that the sun sets in the West and rises in the East, so once you know where North is, you can determine which portion of the day you are in and how much longer you have until night falls.

Prepare for Night

If it is getting close to night, you will need to immediately begin preparations for nightfall. The last thing that you want is is to be caught unprepared. Depending on which part of the world you are in, nighttime can mean extreme drop of temperatures.

The first thing to do is to set a point to come back to. Use a landmark like an odd looming tree, a large rock, or something to that effect. Once you have set your starting point, move in direct line of sight of your landmark to collect fire wood and anything that could be used to help.

preparing for night and building shelter

This includes any sort of items that may have been left behind by other people, or anything could be used for shelter. Try to search for a body of water or a cave when you are moving within line of sight of your starting point.

Once you have collected enough firewood and found a place to shelter for the night, your next step is to start a fire as soon as possible. This provides you with extremely necessary warmth and will give off a large amount of smoke that can serve as a beacon for anyone who might be looking for you.

One of the biggest killers when it comes to being lost in the woods is hypothermia. Yes, even in summer! People die every single year traveling around mountainous regions during the summer because they are not prepared for how cold it can get when night falls.


Finding shelter is one of the most important parts of survival in the woods. One of your first priorities should be finding some sort of shelter to protect your from all the elements. Shelter can come in all shapes and sizes.

Ideally, you might be able to find an uninhabited cave, but that would be rare. Most caves will already have some animal who has called it their home, so if you find any caves make sure there are no signs of something else living there.

making shelter in the woods

If you cannot find a cave, you are more than likely going to need to create your own shelter. For this you will want to look for a fallen tree that has enough space for you to fit underneath.

Once you have found your tree, you will want to cover one side of the area with strong branches and wood that can then be covered with any sort of brush (palm leaves, shrubbery, fronds, or other plants). Lash together the branches and leaves with your cord from your survival kit.

Make sure that you cover as of the shelter as you can, and then create a bed of leaves and brush for you to lay on as well. A shelter should be providing you with both warmth and protection from rain, sleet, snow, or even the blistering heat of the sun. Do not make your shelter too hidden though, you want people looking for you to be able to find you.


 A human being can survive up to three days without any water, so whatever water you have when you start off should be rationed, but not too harshly. Finding fresh water can be extremely difficult in the wild, but it is important that you find some form of fresh water in order to survive.

fresh water springs in the woods

Fresh water springs are the most ideal forms of fresh water, but unless you are camping in very specific areas, your chances of finding a fresh water spring are very low. But do not worry there are other methods that can be used to find drinkable water.

  • Streams: Finding a running stream or river is your next best option when it comes to fresh water. Look for a place where birds are converging on a location. Birds stay near sources of fresh water in order to survive. If you find a running stream, do not immediately start drinking from it. Although streams can be excellent sources of water, they are not always going to be readily drinkable.
    Check the quality of the water by checking the amount of sediment that is in the water. While this is not a perfect test to see if the water is drinkable, you will have a better shot at not getting sick the less sediment there is in the water.
  • Rain Water: If you find yourself in the middle of rainy season it may be extremely uncomfortable, but the bonus to this is that you will be able to collect really clean drinking water. Set up as many possible containers as you have including leaves, hats, your foil, and your water bottle to collect any falling water.
  • Purifying Water: If you have found water but do not trust whether or not it is drinkable, boiling can solve your problem. Using your small pot and your fire you can boiling water to purify it. The water needs to be at a full boil for at least three minutes before it is clean to drink. Let the water cool down and then you will be ready to drink fresh water!

Alternatively, if you do have a pot or foil to mold into a pot you can use a clear water bottle to purify the water. Fill your water bottle to the brim and then leave it out in the sun for at least 6 hours. While this is not perfect for purifying the water it will be better than nothing!

Energy and Food

When you are lost in the woods, you never know how long it will take for someone to come find you, or god forbid, how long it will take you to get back to civilization. The first instinct you will have is to panic and start running around, trying to find your way back, but do not make this mistake.

When it comes to survival in this situation, you must do your best to conserve your energy. Food and water are both going to be scarce and you will just make things worse if you strain yourself further.

finding food in woods

Finding food can be one of the biggest challenges when you are lost in the woods. There are certain wild plants that you can eat that can help you, as well as methods such as fishing. Unless you run into a strawberry bush or a very obvious berry bush, avoid eating berries completely.

There are way too many poisonous berries for the risk. The same can be said for mushrooms. Some foods that you can eat are:

  • Dandelions are one of the best plants to find for easy nutrition. All you need to do is remove the stem from the flower and eat the flower and yellow leaves.
  • Insects and other bugs. While gross, can be an excellent source of protein for you when you are in the wild. While they may not be the most appealing food to eat, bugs can provide you with lifesaving protein when you are lost. Insects should be 100% cooked before you eat them, so put that foil to use! Make sure to remove the heads, legs, and wings as well. Whatever you do, do not eat any bright insects, caterpillars, or insects that have stingers. This includes bees, spiders, wasps, etc. Grasshopper are your best bet for quick protein.
  • Fishing can be an amazing way to get food when near running water or a lake. However, never go too far away from your shelter. If you need to fish you can make a make shift fishing pole using cord and a long branch. Tie a bug to the end of the string and hope that you catch something.

Getting Yourself Rescued

While survival should always be your number one goal, you want to make sure that you are easily rescuable as well.

Use yor whistle

There are certain steps that you can take that will dramatically increase our chances of being rescued.

  1. Stay near your starting point. The farther off you wander, the harder it will be for rescuers to find you. As long as someone knows that you are supposed to be back at a certain time, you have a high chance of being found. But this requires you staying in the same area.
  2. The smokier the fire the better. When building your fire add extra leaves and tinder to get your fire really going. The smoke will create an easy to find signal for any helicopters that may be looking for you, as well as alerting ground rescuers to your presence.
  3. Use your whistle throughout the day to see if any rescuers are in your area. The whistle can be one of your best noise making tools, and requires very little energy to use. Do not constantly blow on it, but make sure to use it regularly.
  4. Only go looking for help if you know for a fact that no one will be looking for you. If you have to go and look for help, do not travel at night. Try to find a stream or a running source of water and follow it downstream. You eventually will run into a larger body of water, and with that a better chance at finding other people.

No matter what you do, you need to make sure that your stay calm and collected the entire time. Untrained people have survived extremely prolonged times in the wild, and you can to. If you stay in control of your situation, don’t panic, and make the correct choices you will make it through what is an extremely trying situation.

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