We’re approaching spring (finally!) and with that time of year comes camping, hiking, and all sorts of other wilderness activities. All too often, though, these relatively simple treks into the outdoors end in tragedy. It seems not a week goes by without a news story hitting the airwaves and Internet about some hiker or camper who became lost in the woods and dying
from exposure or some other cause.
Fortunately, there is a simple tool you can teach your loved ones, as well as use yourself, in that situation. The acronym S.T.O.P. serves to remind us all of what we should do in the event we find ourselves lost in the woods.
S stands for SIT DOWN. Stop moving and take a break. Inhale deeply, hold it for a few seconds, then let it out slowly. Do this a few times, until you feel you are in control. Panicking does no good whatsoever. You need to clear your head and the first step towards that is to sit down.
Keep in mind, too, that is it much more difficult for searchers to find a moving target. By staying in one place, provided that place is safe, you stand a much better chance of being found.
T is for THINK. After you’ve calmed yourself, think about your situation, your location, and how you got there. Sometimes, this is all it takes and you’ll be able to retrace your steps back to camp. Other times, though, you’ll need to prioritize your list of basic needs and determine what you need to do first. Usually, this means getting a fire going and cobbling together some sort of shelter. Remember, the elements can and will kill you far sooner than a lack of food or water in most situations. Addressing any injuries also takes precedence.
Another consideration is to think about how long you’ve been gone and how long it may be before people start looking for you. If you’ve committed a cardinal sin and not told anyone where you were going or when you’d be back, it could be quite some time before any alerts are sounded. In that situation, you’ll be on your own for far longer than you may be prepared to sit tight and wait.
O is for OBSERVE. You need to take complete stock of the situation. Can you make a reasonably accurate determination of your location? Do you know in which direction to travel to find help the quickest (and do you know how to find that direction)? How late in the day is it now? What is the weather like now and what is it likely to do in the next few hours?
For example, while in many cases you’d be far better off to stay put and wait for help, if you are absolutely certain the highway lies two hours to the west and it is the middle of a bright, sunny morning, put the sun to your back and get trekking.
This step also entails taking a mental or physical inventory of the resources available to you. What gear do you have in your pockets or in your pack? Look around and try to ascertain what natural resources are available to you as well. Is there a stream nearby from which you can obtain water and do you have the means to disinfect it? What about wild edibles, such as
blackberries? Even if you aren’t necessarily hungry at the moment, just knowing those sources of food are around you can be a comforting thought.
P stands for PLAN. It is only after you’ve sat down, calmly thought about the situation, and observed what is around you as well as with you that you are able to make a concrete, informed plan of action. Of course, the plan will vary with the situation but, generally speaking, it will first involve a decision to either stay put or continue moving.
If you are going to sit tight and wait for help, this is a great time to start signaling for assistance. We’ll talk about signaling for help in more detail in a later installment but, suffice to say, you should always have a whistle in your pocket when traveling outdoors. The sound of a whistle will travel much further than your voice and using a whistle won’t give you a sore throat. Three sharp blasts at regular intervals is the standard distress signal. The whistle has the added bonus of not preventing you from working on a debris hut or other shelter, as well as getting a fire going, while you’re using it.
Often, the most difficult part about this is remembering to do it. What you may consider doing is writing S.T.O.P. on a piece of tape and placing it inside your jacket or somewhere else that will be visible to you should the need arise.
By guest contributor Jim Cobb.
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