What to Do if You Get Lost in an Isolated Area

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by Kyt Lyn Walken

“They made up their minds
And they started packing
They left before the sun came up that day
An exit to eternal summer slacking
But where were they going without ever knowing the way?”

“The Way”, Song by the band Fastball.

Back in the ’90, there was a popular song that hit the radio. The song was “The Way”, by the band, Fastball. The song’s lyrics are focused on the misadventure of an older married couple. The two of them, in fact, packed their belongings and left home with a car, without informing their children about their plans. During the trip, the car broke down and the couple was forced to keep on walking. Apparently, the frontman of the band took inspiration after reading some news reporting the disappearance of Lela and Raymond Howard from Salado, Texas, in June 1997. Back at that time, Lela was suffering from Alzheimer and Raymond was recovering from brain surgery.
Their bodies were eventually found only a couple of weeks later in a ravine close to Hot Springs, Arkansas.
They were hundreds of miles off their intended route.

On April 5th, 2022, the Washington Examiner reported the news of a couple from Indiana who vanished in thin air in Nevada while on vacation with their RV. Such news appears to be very frequent in times like this. People planned a vacation to eventually get into some mishaps which can easily turn into tragedies. In this article, we will look at tips on what to do if you get lost in an isolated area.

The importance of having more than a plan

Even for the shortest period related to a brief vacation, planning a route should gain all our attention. This includes several aspects:

  • The features of the area which will be our final destination (Do we already know it or not? Is that an isolated area or can we count on some means in case of necessity, like hotels, small urban areas, and so on?..)
  • The features of our trip (Which kind of vehicle do we employ? Which is a possible B plan in case our vehicle breaks down?..)
  • Our physical shape (Are we in good fit or do we need to rely on meds or on the presence of other people?..)
  • Our skills and gear (Do we master some navigation, survival, and tracking skills in case we get lost somewhere? Are our partner/s good with that too?..)

What if you get lost in an isolated area?

If you find yourself lost in an isolated area while on foot as happened to the protagonists of the above-mentioned story, the most important thing to do is to remain calm and stay put.

Panic can lead to poor decision-making and can make it more difficult for rescue teams to find you. Here are some steps (or general guidelines) you can take to increase your chances of being found:

  1. Assess your situation: Look around and try to identify any landmarks, trails, or other signs of civilization. Check your phone for a signal and try to make a call or send a text message for help.
  2. Stay in one place: If you can’t find your way out, don’t wander around as this will make it more difficult for rescuers to locate you. Stay in one place, preferably in a spot with good visibility and shelter from the elements.
  3. Make yourself visible: Use bright clothing or anything reflective to make yourself more visible to search parties or aircraft. You can also make a signal fire if you have the materials and knowledge to do so safely.
  4. Stay hydrated: Drink plenty of water to prevent dehydration. If you don’t have water, try to find a source of drinking water such as a stream or pond, but make sure to purify it before drinking.
  5. Use survival gear: If you have any survival gear with you, such as a first-aid kit or a compass, use them to increase your chances of survival.
  6. Wait for rescue: Don’t give up hope, and wait for rescue teams to find you. Remember that it may take some time for them to arrive, so stay patient and stay safe.
  7. Build a shelter: If you don’t have a tent or other shelter, build one using natural materials such as branches, leaves, and other debris. This will protect you from the elements and help keep you warm and dry. Obviously, this can be put into use only if you master some survival skills.
  8. Find water: If you don’t have any water with you, look for a natural water source such as a stream, river, or lake. Be sure to purify the water before drinking it. You can accomplish finding a river by following animal tracks, especially ungulates, which have a distinctive shape of the hoof.
  9. Build a fire: A fire can provide warmth, light, and a way to cook food. Build a fire using dry wood and other natural materials. Be sure to follow proper fire safety protocols to prevent wildfires.
  10. Signal for help: If you have a whistle or other signaling device, use it to signal for help. You can also use rocks, logs, or other objects to spell out “HELP” on the ground or on a hillside.
  11. Stay warm: Hypothermia is a serious risk in the wilderness, especially at night. Keep yourself warm and dry by wearing appropriate clothing and building a shelter.
  12. Stay positive: Finally, try to stay positive and hopeful. Remember that rescue is on the way, and keep your spirits up by focusing on the things you’re grateful for.


Backtracking can be related to reading your tracks back and reconstructing your trail until the starting point.
Nonetheless, it is also a process of reevaluating and rethinking previous decisions or actions to correct course or achieve a desired outcome.

Starting from this topic, here are some steps you can take to backtrack yourself:

  • Identify the problem or mistake: The first step is to identify the problem or mistake that needs to be corrected. Be honest with yourself about what went wrong and where you may have made a misstep.
  • Analyze the situation: Once you have identified the problem, take a step back and analyze the situation. Look at the decisions you made and the actions you took that led to the mistake.
  • Consider alternative options: After analyzing the situation, consider alternative options that may lead to a better outcome. Think about what you could have done differently and how you can make changes to correct the mistake.
  • Take action: Once you have identified the problem, analyzed the situation, and considered alternative options, take action to correct the mistake. Implement the changes you have identified and take steps to move forward in a positive direction.
  • Evaluate the results: After taking action, evaluate the results to determine whether the changes you made have led to the desired outcome. If not, consider further changes and continue the process of analyzing, considering alternatives, and taking action until you achieve your desired outcome.

Remember, backtracking is a normal and necessary part of life. By taking the time to backtrack yourself, you can learn from your mistakes and make positive changes that will help you achieve your goals.

Putting into use your Tracking skills

Following human footprints can be a useful skill in certain situations, such as tracking a lost hiker or identifying the direction of a group’s movement. Or, like in the case of getting lost by yourself, you can apply the knowledge that you have to backtrack yourself from the beginning spot of your travel.

Here are some steps you can follow to track human footprints, also yours:

  1. Look for fresh footprints – the fresher the prints, the easier they are to track. Look for footprints that have not been disturbed by wind, rain, or other elements.
  2. Identify the direction of travel – Determine the direction of the footprints by looking at the shape of the footprint. The heel of the footprint is usually deeper and more defined than the rest of the print, and it will point in the direction of travel.
  3. Analyze the stride length – The distance between each set of footprints can give you an idea of the person’s stride length. This information can be used to estimate the person’s height and speed.
  4. Look for other clues – Pay attention to other signs around the footprints that may indicate the person’s movements, such as broken twigs or disturbed leaves.
  5. Stay on track – Once you have identified the direction of the footprints, stay on the same path and keep looking for fresh prints. Be mindful of other factors that may affect your tracking, such as changes in terrain or weather.

Remember that tracking human footprints is a skill that takes practice and patience. It is also important to respect the privacy and rights of others and to avoid trespassing or intruding on private property.

What if you need to survive for the long term?

Surviving in the wilderness can be a challenging task, but with the right skills, preparation, and mindset, it is possible. Here are some tips to help you survive in the wilderness:

Find or create shelter

Your first priority in the wilderness is to find or create a shelter to protect yourself from the elements. Look for natural shelters like caves, overhangs, or fallen trees, or create your own shelter using branches, leaves, or other natural materials.

Find a source of water

Water is essential for survival, so you should prioritize finding a source of water. Look for streams, rivers, or lakes, or collect rainwater if it’s raining. You can also create a solar still to extract water from plants or the ground.

Find a source of water in your location.

Start a fire

Fire can provide warmth, light, and a way to cook food, so it’s essential to learn how to start a fire. Gather dry wood, kindling, and tinder, and use a firestarter such as matches or a lighter to get your fire going.

Gather food

In the wilderness, food may be scarce, so you’ll need to be resourceful to find food. Look for edible plants, berries, nuts, and insects. You can also try fishing, hunting, or trapping for food.

Stay safe

The wilderness can be dangerous, so it’s important to stay safe. Avoid dangerous animals like bears, snakes, or spiders, and learn how to protect yourself from them. Carry a first aid kit and know basic first aid skills.

Signal for help

If you’re lost or injured, it’s essential to signal for help. Use a whistle, mirror, or signal fire to attract attention from search parties or passing planes.


Remember that surviving in the wilderness requires preparation, knowledge, and resilience. Make sure you have the right gear, know basic survival skills, and stay calm and focused in any situation. Being stuck on foot in an isolated area requires indeed cold blood, a sharp mind, and a good level of preparation. Deprivation of sleep and lack of calories and proteins can affect your performance, especially in the phase of backtracking yourself. That said, accustom yourself to pay attention to your way of walking and get used to remembering the design of your footprint – also take a picture of it! This will help you in discriminating your footsteps from others, especially when it comes to the necessity to instantly recognize it. Then work with common sense, always staying stuck to the ground and to your own stride. Turn the terrain into your best ally also in such a tough situation.

About the author

Kyt Lyn Walken is Official Representative and Instructor for Hull’s Tracking School (Virginia) and Antipoaching Certified Ranger for Conservation Rangers Operations Worldwide Inc. (Colorado).

She’s a long time Prepper and Survivalist and she wrote several articles and essays on this topic.           


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Photos by Kyt Lyn Walken

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  1. Very good post. My first land navigation course in the military was truly an eye opener moving in natural environment. Good topographical map of an area and the ability to read a map and compass and how to use it. Practice along a trail in state a park with marked reference is a good place to start. Challenge yourself negotiating terrain using nature much like Native Americans.

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