East Tennessee Outdoors: I can survive! – Part 1

Published 2:27 pm Friday, April 24, 2020



It has happened to all of us. You are trailing an animal and suddenly get lost, or you are hiking and get off the trail. Suddenly, the woods do not look the same, and after a few minutes, you are so confused that you realize you are lost.

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Or, you fall and are hurt. You have no way to get in touch with anyone else, and it may be a few days before anyone comes to find you. What do you do? How do you survive in a situation you are not expecting?

Every year there are hundreds of people who go into the woods and never come out again. Many of these are victims of violent crimes, such as murder, robbery, or theft, or they may simply vanish because they want to disappear.

Then there are those of us who know these woods like our own back yard and still manage to get lost. What do you do? How do you survive if you are injured or lost and you have to save yourself?

The first thing to do is to calm down. It is easy to panic in this situation and do the absolute wrong thing, so stop walking around and evaluate your situation.

Are you too injured to walk? What food and water do you have? Is someone expecting you at a certain time and will they search for you if you do not show up? All of these questions are important because your next step depends on your answer to these questions.

If you can walk, remember the four “threes” of wilderness survival. You can survive three minutes without air, three hours without shelter, three days without water, and three weeks without food. Once you think of the “threes”, it is time to priorities your situation.

Assuming you are not in the water, how close is it before darkness? Do you need a shelter? If so, start work immediately on a shelter to suit your needs. A simple lean-to shelter will do fine in the summer.

You may need something a little more airtight during the other times of the year.

Doing this has two effects on you. It gives you something to work on which calms you down, and it makes you feel like there is something you can do about your situation.

This will have a strong emotional impact on you, and if you are hurt, this will help keep you from going into shock.

Second, it will keep you in one place. It is better in a true emergency to stay in one place and let rescuers find you rather than you getting more lost by wandering around in circles in the woods.

I know of a lady who got separated from her party and got lost while day-hiking the Appalachian Trail. She got lost after getting off the trail.

She walked as far as she could, but she saw that darkness was upon her and she did not have any light. She stopped and made her a place to sleep, and the next morning a member of her party found her, and she got out safely.

This girl did everything right once she realized she was lost. She stopped because she knew she would be found the next day and did not try to get out in the dark.

She endured an uncomfortable night, but she was saved and that is what mattered the most.

Any of us can get lost or in trouble in the woods at any time of the year.

Be sure to read our next East Tennessee Outdoors column to learn more survival tips to help you survive that adventure in the woods that goes wrong.