Getting Lost

by Hal Lillywhite 

hall@macs.mxim.com


Part I. Navigation and How to Avoid Getting Lost

From: hall@macs.mxim.com (Hal Lillywhite)
Newsgroups: misc.survivalism
Subject: Getting Lost - Part 1 of 2 (long)
Date: 28 Nov 1995 08:04:25 -0800

This is the first of two articles I wrote previously for rec.backcountry. I've posted them here before but thought they would bear reapeating. This post deals with navigation and how to avoid getting lost. Part two is what to do if you get lost.

How can a person avoid getting lost? A good question and there is probably no simple answer. However, there are some tried and true techniques which help. I think it is helpful to divide this subject into two rather broad categories:

I. Developing a "feel" for the land, a sort of mental map. I think we all do this more or less with our home territory. We know which streets intersect and approximately how they relate to each other. Most of us have little trouble finding our way between our homes, work, friends houses, etc. We usually have a sort of mental map of this familiar terrain. When we visit Joe we just go to his house, we don't have to think about going so many blocks one way then looking for street names etc. When we arrive in unfamiliar surroundings it helps to quickly start developing something similar for them.

II. "Formal" navigation using compass, altimeter or other aids (including some natural ones). This is the technique which allows a person to go from one place to another based on information from a map or directions from someone else. This can be anything from following a road map to an unfamiliar town to a complicated cross- country hike with many intermediate landmarks requiring compass bearings etc. This type of navigation seems less natural and usually requires more effort to learn. However it is necessary in unfamiliar territory. It can also help us more quickly form the "mental map" of the first type of navigation.

In the following list I will not attempt to distinguish which techniques fit which category. Many of them fit both. The best navigators use both anyway. It is helpful to combine them, eg. use "formal" navigation to help develop a mental map and the mental map to supplement the formal techniques.

1. Simply be alert to your surroundings, especially as you travel. Most of us use a variety of clues to help know where we are. Most of these clues are visual although sounds and even smells can help. (The rotting animal carcass can provide a very memorable smell to be recognized on the way back). The person who pays attention to trees, rocks, hills, streams, etc. will have a great advantage over the guy who simply looks at the trail in front of him. Try to look at features from several different angles as you move. Try to put together in your mind how different features relate to each other and to your route. (Of course being alert to surroundings also enhances your enjoyment of the outdoors, the reason most of us are there in the first place.)

2. Try to keep track of your directions and associate them with the territory around you. For example, notice not only the odd shaped hill, but notice that it is northeast of you and runs approximately east and west. Try to be aware of the direction the trail is going. Notice that that hill is ahead of you on the trail, then off to the right a bit as the trail turns. A compass is handy to keep track of the direction the trail runs. Again you are trying to form a mental picture of the territory and how it is oriented. Some of us are better at this than others but I think we can all improve with practice.

3. Occasionally look behind you to see how the territory will look on the return trip. Be especially diligent at all junctions or anywhere else the trail is not glaringly obvious. All those odd tree branches and readily recognizable rocks will look very different from the other direction.

4. Learn to use a compass reasonably well. You may not need to take a bearing to within 2 degrees but you should be able to figure out which way is north. This means understanding declination (unless you will only be in areas where declination is less than about 5 degrees). Learn to go back the direction you came from using your compass (see "back bearing" below).

4a. If you are likely to travel after dark or in a whiteout, learn to use the compass *well*. Learn to follow a bearing, a back bearing, detour around something and get back on route, etc. Learn how accurately you can follow a bearing under different conditions and how to compensate for that inaccuracy (offset bearings, landmarks etc). If your night or whiteout travel will be in mountainous areas get an altimeter and learn to use it (and what its limitations are).

All compass, altimeter, and map techniques are best learned by practice in familiar surroundings under good conditions. It's a bit late to learn when you are in a howling blizzard.

5. Use the compass *long before* you get lost, including at the trailhead and at several intermediate points. The object is to help develop a "feel" for which direction you are traveling and to learn which way you go out so you know which direction you must go to return. It does little good to know which direction is which when you are lost unless you have some idea of which way to go. (Well, let's see. North is that way, South is opposite and East is that way. But which direction is the $#^%^$@* car?) In fact it is a good idea at the trailhead to get out your map and compass and orient the map with the terrain. Put the map so that map north is true north and look around. Identify the direction you plan to travel and as many landmarks as you can. If you don't have a map, at least do this with the compass and look at terrain features, the direction the trail goes, etc. Be sure you know which direction *you* are facing when you look at landmarks.

6. Learn to recognize nature's direction indicators. For example moss does not always grow on the north side of trees but it commonly does grow on a preferred side which varies with location and depends on the prevailing winds. Be aware that these indicators may change from place to place as the prevailing winds change. This can occur in quite short distances if hills affect the wind. (Of course in places like the northwest, moss can grow on all sides of the trees. Maybe you can look for which side has the thinnest coat of moss.) Tree branches can also be affected by prevailing winds.

The sun and shadows can also give indications of direction if you take time of day into account (remember to account for daylight savings time). One excellent natural "compass" is to drive a stick into the ground and mark the end of the shadow. Wait a while and mark where the shadow end has moved. The shadow will always move west to east. If the sun is out this is easy to do and quite precise. The longer the stick and the longer you wait between measurements the easier it is to determine direction.

These indicators are usually not very precise (except for the north star or astronomical readings taken with specialized equipment). However they can help you keep a general idea of which direction is which. If the moss on trees was to your left and suddenly you notice it is toward you, maybe you changed direction without noticing. Check your compass or otherwise find out what happened.

7. Unless you are certain you will *never* leave the trail, learn to use an offset bearing and linear landmarks.

8. Learn to read a map. Try to carry a good map of the area you are in. However even if you don't have a map with you the experience of knowing how to use one will help with your ability to construct your own mental map of the territory.

9. *Never* place all your trust in someone else. Spouses, "knowledgable" friends, SO's, party leaders all make mistakes. Try to keep track of where you are yourself. If you feel lost ask the leader for help or for time to orient yourself. This will promote safety on that trip and help you learn for the times you are on your own. If the leader can't or won't help don't go with him/her again (if you get back that time). Good leaders recognize that (a) they make occasional mistakes and a crosscheck is useful and (b) occasionally people get separated from the group and they better have some idea where they are. The only exception I can think of is the rare case when speed becomes important to safety (eg. you gotta' get off the mountain before the storm hits). Then the leader may be justified in asking you to just follow. (He should, however, remain open to questions while you move.)

There are a couple of tricks which make use of the compass easier.

I. Shooting a "back bearing." The compass is handy for going back the way you came from. To use this you need to set the "direction of travel" when you go out. (See directions which come with your compass, I won't attempt to describe it here.) The usual technique is to add or subtract 180 degrees from that bearing to find the return bearing. It works if you don't make a mistake but is unnecessarily complicated. Even the best of us can make simple arithmetic errors, especially when we're tired, cold, and in a hurry. A much simpler technique is to simply turn the compass around and pretend the south needle is the north. This always gives an exact reversal of direction.

II. Offset bearings (also known as "aiming off"). It's nice to know that if you travel for 5 miles on a bearing of 213 degrees magnetic you will be back at the trailhead. The problem is that most of us are doing very well if we can stay within 3 degrees of a bearing, even worse in anything but open country. In 5 miles a 3 degree error will put you off course by a quarter of a mile! You will probably miss your target and if you come to the road you won't know which way to walk. The solution is to make a deliberate error in a known direction. Determine how accurately you can set and follow a bearing, then aim that far to a given side. Pick a linear landmark (road, stream, etc., also known as a "handrail") and when you arrive at it follow it back to a known location such as your car or a recognizable stream crossing. This is the recommended technique, for example, to get off Mt. Hood in a whiteout. In that case, people can aim to the east or west of the lift line. Then when the altimeter (or a good guess) says they are well below the top of the lift they simply turn the appropriate direction, find the lift, and walk down under it. If somebody tried this without knowing which way to the lift he could easily go the wrong direction and end up either on White River Glacier or among the cliffs of Zig-Zag Canyon, both potentially dangerous places.

And one trick to make your maps easier to use: Draw north-south lines on them and declination lines (that is, lines running magnetic north-south as well as true north-south). These lines should be about an inch apart so when you place a typical compass on the map there is always a north-south line and a declination line under it. This is much easier if you have access to a drafting table.

This is not intended to be a comprehensive course in cross-country navigation. It is intended to give some suggestions. You won't learn navigation by reading anyway. Practice, practice, practice. When you try something and it doesn't work, try to figure out why and what you can do better next time. Try to find someone good at navigation and spend time with him/her in the field watching, asking questions, and learning. How much of an expert you need to become will depend on what activities you engage in but be sure your skills are up to your activity. If in doubt try something easier and save that particular trip for when you have improved.

Finally, be sure somebody knows where you are going, when you plan to return and who to notify if you don't come back. If all else fails and you get lost (or injured) nobody will come looking for you until the proper authority (usually the sheriff's dept.) is notified. Even when the search starts it will be much more effective if searchers know your destination, not just where you parked your car.

Even if you get very good with all these techniques there is no guarantee you will not get lost. If that happens, first sit down and relax a bit. Sometimes just a pause will allow you to reorient yourself. Your mind will be much more effective if you can remain calm. Get out your compass and see which way is north. (You do have one don't you? And you did orient yourself at the trailhead, right?) If you have no compass try to find a natural direction indicator (North Star, drive a stick in the ground and see which way the shadow moves etc.). Look around for distinctive landmarks (but be careful before you decide that that hill is the same one you saw from camp. Don't let similar hills fool you.) In the best case you may discover where you are and be able to return without problems. If this doesn't work consider yourself lost and act accordingly.


Part II. What To Do If You Get Lost 

From: hall@macs.mxim.com (Hal Lillywhite)
Newsgroups: misc.survivalism
Subject: Getting Lost - Part 2 of 2 (long)
Date: 28 Nov 1995 08:06:14 -0800

This is the second of two articles I wrote previously for rec.backcountry. I've posted them here before but thought they would bear reapeating. Part one dealt with navigation and how to avoid getting lost. This part two is what to do if you get lost.

OK, it's happened. In spite of all your caution (or maybe because of your lack of caution) you're lost. You don't know how to get back to the trailhead or camp. Now what do you do?

First, do *nothing*. Sit down, take it easy, try to calm down. Look at the pretty scenery. Maybe you'll notice something you recognize. (However don't be hasty about "recognizing" landmarks. Remember you may want to see something familiar so badly that you don't notice that it isn't really what you want it to be.) Of course if the weather is nasty you may need to start seeking shelter. If this is the case try to either find or build shelter quickly and close by. If you are in a group discuss the situation and try to keep everybody calm (especially yourself). Try to keep the group together unless there is a *compelling* reason to split up. And no, disagreement over what to do is not a compelling reason to split up.

I think a good procedure outline is:

1. Protect yourself from immediate danger.

2. Calm down and see if you can orient yourself.

3. Stay put except in unusual circumstances.

4. Provide clues to assist searchers.

5. Improve your comfort if feasible.

6. Respond to searchers (answer calls, walk to smokey fires or to sounds such as prolonged honking of car horns).

Try to orient yourself:

It may help to get on a hill or somewhere else with good visibility. However don't go 2 miles across the countryside to do it.

Use your compass if you have one.

Refer to a map (again being careful not to see what you want instead of what's really there).

If you have no compass try to find one of natures direction indicators. The north star, indicators of prevailing winds such as moss and tree branches (*if* you have had the foresight to to previously notice which way they point). If the sun is out drive a stick in the ground and mark the location of the end of the shadow. The end of that shadow will move west to east.

If you're real lucky you may "find yourself" and be able to return. However, be *certain* you're not fooling yourself before you move. (Even if you are certain leave markers for yourself or searchers indicating direction of travel and if possible your name and the time and date.)

Don't let your embarrassment cloud your judgement. Don't be afraid to admit you are lost, either to yourself or to any potential rescuer. (I remember searching for one teenage couple which we found when the girl heard us and attracted our attention by yelling. Her boyfriend told her to be quiet, he would find the way back! This after an unexpected night in the woods.) Humble pie may not suit your taste but it's a *lot* better than the likely alternative. Nearly everybody has been "temporarily misoriented" a least once so don't feel too badly about it (but *do* let it motivate you to be more careful next time). Search and rescue personnel will try not to embarass you when they find you.

Helping Searchers

Unless you are in immediate danger the most important thing you can do is help the searchers. You cannot help leaving clues and SAR personnel look on the lost person as a clue generator. However you can make the clues much more obvious and effective if you just give the matter a little thought and creativity. Remember there is only one of you and you are only in one place. However you can leave an unlimited number of clues in many places. The search team may happen to miss the particular tree you are under but if you have placed obvious clues in the surounding area they will almost certainly find some of them. If these clues point to your location the next step is easy, you get rescued quickly and the searchers get to go home to their families, a hot shower and a good meal.

Obviously yelling and blowing a whistle provide excellent clues when searchers are within earshot. Try to make your sounds distinctive: yell "help," blow whistle blasts in groups of three etc. Searchers routinely yell and whistle to attract your attention, you don't want to be mistaken for another searcher.

The best clues provide positive identification of who you are and how to find you. Ideally you can put notes in obvious places with your name, date, and direction from the note location to you. Try to put something obvious near the notes: rocks spelling "help" or "SOS," stomp messages in the snow, use large sun-bleached tree branches to spell out your message etc. Try to make these markers visible from both air and ground. Put them on 2 or 3 sides of a hill, visible from different directions. If weather makes it impractical for you to stay in open country or on top of a hill at, least put clues there. Then try to also leave something to indicate where you are from the clues. You can leave notes, scratch arrows into the ground or snow, or use sticks to make such arrows. Even if you decide to try to walk out (usually not recommended, see below) leave such clues indicating which way you went.

Don't think you need a pencil and paper to leave a note. Such inventions came *long* after the invention of writing. You can write with mud on a rock, with a stick in the dirt, carve messages into large sticks with a knife or scratch them with a pointed rock. The lead tip of a bullet can write on rocks or paper, but contrast is low, do something to call attention to it. Be creative. Unless you are on water you can almost certainly find a way to write a note.

One of the best clues is a fire, smokey in the daytime and bright at night. If you can safely build a fire, do so. However be very careful with it, if it gets out of hand you may be the first victim. The smoke by day or light by night can be seen a long way and bring rescuers quickly. It is also a great comfort to you and in cold weather can be a lifesaver. Determine how much fuel is available and govern your fire accordingly. If fuel is limited it is wise to keep some green branches and dry wood in reserve for when you think searchers are in the area.

Stay Put

Usually you should stay put. (You may want to move a couple of hundred meters a more comfortable or visible position but that is about the limit under most circumstances.) I think there are only three good reasons for a lost person to try to get out instead of staying put:

1. There is almost no chance of timely rescue. You are not expected back for a week, or you were real dumb and nobody has the slightest idea where you are. (Even if nobody knows where you are if you have a vehicle at the trailhead that will provide a starting point for a search.)

2. You are confident that even though you are lost you can make it to some form of civilization in a reasonable time. Maybe you know there is a road to the west and you can reach it in a few hours. Even if it's not the road where your car is, someone will eventually come along. *Be careful*. What's between you and that road? Cliffs? An uncrossable river? Thick underbrush? Terrain features not obvious on a map may significantly slow or even totally stop your progress. If this happens you will have expended a lot of valuable energy removing yourself from the area most likely to be searched.

3. You are in immediate danger. Again don't be hasty. Discomfort does not constitute danger. You can survive a lot of cold, hunger and wetness. As a rule of thumb a person can survive in the wilderness about 3 times as long as expected. However, if you're wearing only a T-shirt and the temperature will drop below freezing you may want to consider moving *if* you have some idea of which way to go. (And warm yourself with blue smoke for being so unprepared.) If you are in an avalanche zone get out of it. However, there are few real solid dangers which would require you to move more than 100-200 meters.

As I write this paragraph, the Wasco County, Oregon Sheriff's Department has just suspended the search for a 17 year old elk hunter who apparently did not stay put when he got lost. The area where he was last seen and surrounding vicinity has been searched several times without even finding a solid clue. Of course we can't know for sure what happened but the most reasonable guess is that he walked out of the area in some unknown direction. There is some indication he may have built fires and/or shelters in the area but did not stay with them. Had he stayed he would almost certainly have been found by now. As it is, if he isn't dead he probably will be soon. I expect that in a year or so another hunter will happen upon the remains.

[Update on the lost hunter. Almost a year after he was lost some other hunters found his pack and rifle. Further searching found enough bones etc. to identify the remains from dental records. He was 10 miles from the search area. The theory that he walked out of the area appears to be correct. If a lost person has traveled that far from the last know point there is very little chance searchers will find him.]

If you do decide to move, mark your trail *well*. It will help the searchers or you may want to return. Leave as much information as you can. If you have a pencil and paper, leave notes in obvious places. On each note leave your name, time, date, direction of travel etc. In other words, follow all the clue leaving suggestions above. You are are now a moving target and much harder to find. Furthermore you may find unexpected difficulty and have to backtrack. Make it easy to do so.

Be careful if you move. You are in enough trouble already, you don't need to fall over an unexpected drop-off or get soaked in a creek. It may be especially tempting to travel at night when the temperature is lowest but that is also the most dangerous time, hazards are less obvious. (Of course the tendency of a lost person to travel in a circle is well known. Avoid this by picking out landmarks ahead and traveling toward them or use your compass.)

Again, be *very* reluctant to travel. Almost always (at least in areas like the 48 contiguous states) a lost person is better off to stay put and wait to be found.

Improve your Situation

So if you stay put, what should you do? The biggest enemy is probably boredom. Sitting around waiting to be found can be *devilishly* hard. Minutes seem like hours and hours never end. You probably get cold, hungry, thirsty and you wonder if maybe you should try to walk out after all. Fight that by doing something but try not to waste energy. Again the best use of your time is probably deliberate clue generation as above. After you do that (or maybe even before if weather demands it) you will want to improve your situation. Both activities will give you a psycho- logical reason to stay put as well as increasing your comfort and chances of being found.

I want to emphasize the importance of building shelters and placing clues. Aside from their benefit in protection and possible aid to searchers, they give you an investment in staying put. Without such an investment and the psychological help it gives you will find it *very* difficult to resist the urge to try to walk out. Your emotions tend to overwhelm all the knowledge you have about why you should stay put. Placing clues, building a shelter etc. help give you an attachment to the place where you are, thus somewhat counteracting the urge to try to find your own way out. The urge will still be there, mind you, but it will be easier to resist.

One real question is where to set up your temporary home? You will be easier to find if you are in the open, on top of a hill etc. However the same places also expose you to the weather. You will have to decide based on the weather, your equipment and clothing, etc. Again, if you decide to move into a less exposed area try to put a marker in an exposed place with an indication of where you are.

Try to improve your situation. Find a protected place to sleep and see if you can make it more comfortable. Most jurisdictions permit cutting of vegetation to make shelter in emergencies. Do the best you can with the materials and tools available. Again, creativity helps, bark or roots can be used as string, natural features provide the start of shelters, etc. Of course the protection you make from the elements may also protect you from the eyes of searchers, compensate by *clearly* indicating where your shelter is. Make the shelter as obvious as you can, searchers routinely check inside any shelter they come across.

Ration your food and water. The object is to survive until help arrives, not eat or drink till you are satisfied. If water is plentiful and you have a way to purify it, go ahead and drink. If you have no way to purify it you may be better off thirsty for a couple of days. Exception: If you are getting cold, you should avoid dehydration. In this case you will have weigh the risk of disease against the risk of hypothermia. Neither is trivial, especially since most water-borne illness also tends to cause dehydration and otherwise interfere with metabolism.

(I will add here that rationing is somewhat controversial. There are some who advocate eating and drinking normally until supplies are gone. The theory is to keep your body energy up at first and use that energy to improve your situation with shelters etc. While hard work may be necessary for brief periods in very bad weather, I don't think such is usually the case. Furthermore you can work hard to dig a snowcave for example without being too hard on supplies. Your body does tend to eliminate excess, especially water, so if you eat and drink to the satisfaction point some of it will be wasted. In most cases I think you are better off to work a bit more slowly and save food and water. Of course if you are qualified in survival skills you will be able to get food and water to your heart's content. In this case forget the rationing.)

Clean snow is likely to be relatively free of disease-causing microbes. However be very careful about eating it. The latent heat of melting will require a tremendous energy expenditure on your part. Either it will make you cold or it will cost valuable calories. If you have a means of melting it, go ahead and then drink the water. If you are overheated you may eat a little snow (but overheat is usually caused by overexertion, avoid that at all costs). Ration *all* calories, both from food and the energy stored in your body. That means don't work harder than is necessary. Except for providing necessities this is a good time to be lazy.

Food may seem like an urgent necessity but in reality most people can go for days without eating and suffer no long term damage. Aside from rationing you may or may not be able to safely supplement your supplies. Be very careful in choosing what to eat. Hunger is a lot better than potential poisoning or disease. If in doubt, don't eat it. Meat may be the easiest safe food to obtain *if* you can cook it and aren't too persnickety. For example grubs will provide a lot of energy (ask any bear). Fry 'em up and they will fill your need for fats. I haven't tried it personally but someone who did assures me they don't taste too bad either. Porcupines are easy to catch, with our tool using ability we can beat them to death with a long stick, thereby avoiding the quills. Many insects are edible if not appetizing and they are available almost everywhere. Of course cooking kills microbes and reduces the risk of disease from any of these critters.

Remember, avoid anything which might spread disease, you really don't need to get sick on top of everything else. Water is definitely higher on the priority list than is food. If you can obtain safe water you will be a lot more comfortable and able to survive longer.

I'm not going to go into much here about long term survival. This is not the place for it even if I were qualified. If you do learn about this subject it will be to your advantage. Even if you don't you have an excellent chance of being rescued in good shape if you get lost. Use your head and follow a few basic principles. It probably will not be pleasant. However if you act reasonably prudently you will almost certainly be found safe and in good shape.

Appendix: How Search Teams Work

First, be aware that searches do not start the minute you get lost. In all likelyhood you will be lost for quite some time before anyone starts looking for you. Try to be patient. Nobody is going to come looking for you until you are reported overdue. Even then usually the sheriff will send a deputy to check things out before starting a search. Is your car really still at the trailhead? Are you in the latrine or a nearby bar?

Only after the deputy is satisfied there is a need will SAR personnel be called out. Then since most of them are volunteers it usually takes hours for the search to actually start. People have to leave their jobs or families, pack the necessities, and drive to the staging area. Then depending on circumstances it may take more hours to reach the actual backcountry area where they are to search. The search may also be delayed by the necessity to plan and organize activities. It makes little sense to just send people out "thataway" without coordin- ation and intelligent direction.

It may help place your clues if you know how a typical search and rescue operation proceeds. Usually the first searchers into an area are "hasty teams," small teams lightly equipped and assigned to search the areas of highest probability. They check known shelters, areas near where you were last seen, open areas where you might go to try to be seen, etc. This is a reason to not move far, you will be leaving the areas likely to be searched first. Try to place some of your clues in these obvious areas and you will likely be found faster. Searchers usually carry binoculars so clues on open hillsides are also quite effective. Hasty teams typically have very limited manpower so they can search only the most likely spots. Try to put something there to help them.

Hasty teams and other ground searchers also typically try to make a lot of noise. If you hear them of course you should respond. They will yell, blow whistles etc. Usually if they can hear you it is better to keep talking, yelling, etc. and let them come to you rather than trying to go to them. If you have a whistle (which is highly recommended) blow three blasts at a time since 3 is a "universal" distress signal, at least in the U.S. This will help searchers distinguish your whistle from those of other searchers. Of course 3 shots from a firearm also works if you have the ammunition. Please be careful where you shoot, rescuers do not appreciate being shot at. Shoot into the ground away from rocks, not into the air where you don't know what the bullet will hit on the way down. Unfortunately other countries have different "universal" distress signals, sometimes six or more repeated sounds. This is a problem for travelers so inform yourself ahead of time.

Depending on weather and availability, air searchers may also arrive quickly. Obviously they can search open areas more effectively than dense woods and brush. Try to stay in the open and have clues visible from the air. If you see an aircraft which appears to be searching for you the best position is spread eagle, flat on the ground. You will be easier to see that way than in any other posture. It is even better than doing the natural thing of standing and waving your arms.

Other searchers likely to arrive fairly soon are dog teams and trackers. Again the early stages of a search will be confined to the areas of highest probablilty. These people will be looking for clues in places like "track traps," areas you may have been which show tracks easily or where a dog can pick up a scent.

The idea of early stages of a search is to find clues. Of course searchers will be happy to find you (refered to as "the ultimate clue") but they know there are more clues than lost people. Typically they find clues in some places and not others and then move personnel to the areas where the clues indicate you are likely to be. Most searches end fairly soon after the early stages because the clues reduce the area and often point quickly to the actual lost person. Actually a lot of searches resemble a binary search in a data base. The area is divided into sub areas and each is checked for clues. Areas without clues are tentatively eliminated and efforts concentrated on those areas where clues indicated highest probability for you to be. With a bit of luck this finds you fairly quickly.

Another early search technique usually used is confinement. People will simply wait at natural boundaries such as passes and stream crossings. The idea is to intercept you if you are about to wander out of the area. Your part in this is that you should *never* cross roads or other natural barriers. The first assumption is that you will wait there so the search is confined to the prime area until it is rather certain you are not there. Vehicle searchers usually patrol the roads and will probably find you quickly if you just sit tight. Searchers also often "camp in" at places like trail junctions and passes.

A common method is the use of attractors. An attractor is anything the subject is likely to see or hear and be attracted to. Common attractors include the aforementioned whistles and yelling by search teams. A typical use would consist of two blasts on a whistle after which the searcher waits a few seconds to listen for a response. These are moving attractors so the best response is to yell or whistle back to get searchers attention, then wait for them to come to you. Other attractors are fires (bright at night, smokey during daylight), car horns, sirens etc. You may have to walk to them since they can get your attention from so far away that the people can't hear your response.

Later stages of a search may involve "grid searching," lines of people spaced 100-300 meters apart (open grid) or closer (closed grid). If you leave appropriate clues the search should never reach this stage. This is manpower intensive, slow, and often reserved for when we think we are looking for a body or severly incapacitated subject. Try to leave enough clues to be found without this technique, and certainly enough that closed grid searching is not necessary.


Last edited: January 26, 2001

The NetWoods Virtual Campsite, Steve Tobin, Campmaster