Simple Things That Will Save Your Ass If You Get Lost in the Great Outdoors

Surely by now you’ve heard about the couple from Costa Mesa who got lost somewhere near the Holy Jim canyon parking area. They had enough juice in their cell phone to call the police and ask for help but soon lost power. Here are some things you can do to prevent getting lost and what to do when you’re lost.

  1. Turn off your cell phone when you’re in wilderness areas.  Chances are, you’ll be out of range most of the time anyway and all you’re going to do is kill the battery as the phone is constantly searching for towers.
  2. Bring a backup USB battery and your USB charger cable (Obviously make sure they’re compatible first!)
  3. Just because your phone HAS a GPS built in, don’t count on it to provide you with navigational assistance.  You need special software and you need to download TOPO maps before you leave the house.  You most likely won’t have a data connection, so things like Google Maps won’t help you in the back country.
  4. On that note, have a paper map of the area you’re visiting and pay attention to what trails your taking.
  5. NEVER EVER EVER go off trail.
  6. Make sure you have enough water and food for a night’s stay for everyone in your group and a first aid kit.
  7. If you can’t afford a real GPS that can be loaded with TOPO maps of the area built in, then for God’s sake at least buy a backtracking GPS unit.  Those will at least point you in the right direction.  They’re also great if you tend to forget where you parked your call at the mall all the time!
  8. Bring a bright flashlight that has a strobe mode.  When you’re out in the dark, you’re going to light up like a fire if you shine one of those at a helicopter!  Marine Emergency Strobes can be pinned to your clothing or backpack and can be seen for miles in all directions.
  9. Bring a compass – always.  When you exit the car, point the compass in the direction you’re heading and memorize that heading.  Think about it – you’ll be heading in the opposite direction on the way back.
  10. Bring a whistle.  Search dogs can hear you from hundreds of yards away.
  11. Buy a book of the area you plan to visit.  Study it before you venture off.  Typically trail guides will tell you things like how many miles you’re going to go, how much climbing and how long the route will take.
  12. Start early in the morning and allow yourself twice as much time as you think it will require to get back.  Always let somebody know where you’re going and when you expect to be back.
  13. Buy a GPS locator, such as the Spot and make sure you’ve got the service setup.  With a locator, you can also send frequent location updates and “I’m OK” notes to loved ones that can track your journey online.  When you push the panic button, search and rescue are immediately dispatched and they’ll know where you are.  Don’t MOVE if you push that panic button.
  14. Take a class on navigation.  REI offers GPS training every month.
  15. If you’re new to your sport, go with a group of people that have many years of experience.  You’ll learn a lot!
  16. Pack some extra clothes in the car and leave some food and water in there.  If you get lost and do happen to find you’re way out.  You’re going to need all that!
  17. Bring a space blanket.  They’re light and will save you from hypothermia.
  18. Bring a windproof lighter.  Ya just might need to start a fire (for warmth or as a signal).  If you do have to make a signal fire, control it! You don’t want to start a forest fire.
  19. Bring a sturdy knife.  They have many uses – such as cutting up wood for kindle.
  20. Don’t try to navigate out in the dark unless you have a really bright light and knowledge of the area.
  21. Never go inside caves, old mine shafts, etc.
  22. Study the weather forecasts for the area you’re attending and make sure you’re overly prepared for the conditions.  This works both ways: when it’s hotter than 80 degrees, you need a LOT more water.  And when it drops below 40 at night, you’re in for a long chilly night.  Canyons are especially cold at night.  If it’s cold, you don’t want to be on the top of any mountain either.
  23. Lastly, never ride alone and never leave your group behind!

Now these are really just, “starter tips”.  There’s many more you’ll need to know as you begin venturing into more remote areas.  Can you think of a few good ones to share?  Email me at