How often do you turn on the local news and hear reports of people missing in the wilderness? Oftentimes, the missing person is one who planned on spending a leisurely afternoon or weekend enjoying the great outdoors, perhaps hunting, fishing, hiking or camping. We are all at risk of becoming lost while in the wilderness - and the middle of nowhere is a scary place to be when it's getting dark, you have no way to contact home and you're unprepared. Below are tips to keep in mind should you ever find yourself stranded.
• Leave a travel plan behind. Before you leave home, write detailed instructions about your trip. Include exactly where you plan to go and the route you'll be taking to get there. Be as precise as possible; this will make it easier for someone to find you should you need help. Also indicate how long you plan to be away, including the dates you plan to leave and return. Leave these instructions with a responsible friend or family member, who should contact the police if you do not return at the time you specified.
• Travel with a friend. It is a good idea to travel with a group when exploring the great outdoors. If you sustain even a minor injury (like a twisted ankle), getting back home or getting help will be much more difficult if you are by yourself. Should you become lost, don't "split up" and go your separate ways in search of home. Stick together. You may need each other later on.
• Wear proper clothing. Certainly, if you live on Canada's east coast, this means packing for all seasons, no matter what the season actually is. Weather forecasts are not always reliable. Wear hiking boots that fit properly (footwear that is too tight or too loose may lead to painful blisters that could become infected). Instead of shorts and a tank top, wear lightweight, a long-sleeved shirt, long pants and a wide-brimmed hat that will protect against the sun's harmful rays, yet still allow you to stay cool. Bring practical clothing that you can wear in layers, as well as a waterproof outer layer. Pack extra clothes to change into in case yours becomes wet. (Note: Jeans are not a great choice for outdoor exploring. The material retains wetness and may leave you cold and uncomfortable.) Pack all clothing and other necessities in a waterproof bag.
• Be careful with blisters. Blisters, especially on the feet, are a common annoyance when you're doing a lot of walking. Although you may be tempted to get rid of your blister by bursting it, it is important to try your best to leave it intact because once it's broken, it can become infected. For an intact blister, apply clean gauze held in place with a loose band-aid to reduce friction and prevent rupture. For a broken blister, clean and dress it the same as you would an open wound, with items from your first-aid kit.
• If lost, stay put. Resist the temptation to keep walking in the hopes you'll find your way eventually. Wandering could be taking you farther from civilization while exhausting you of your energy. Most importantly, if you are lost, focus all your attention on what you must do to survive and finding ways to keep comfortable. Focusing your train of thought this way will keep you from panicking.
• What to do around wildlife. Never, ever approach a wild animal, no matter how calm it might appear to be. Wild animals are unpredictable, especially when they feel threatened. First, prevent the possibility of encountering wildlife by making noise as you walk (chat with your friends or bring a small radio). Do not leave tempting food or garbage in your tent or out in the open near your campsite. If you do happen upon a wild animal, back away slowly; do not make any sudden movements that could cause alarm (the animal could bolt in your direction) or aggression. If you see a dead animal, stay away. Predators could be nearby. And though they may look harmless and cute, stay far away from young animals; the mother will likely be close by and may become aggressive if she sees you as a danger to her young.
• Create shelter. If you will be stuck spending an unplanned night outdoors, creating a crude shelter is not difficult. Materials found in nature, such as boughs and driftwood - or even tucking yourself beneath a cliff overhang - will help protect you from exposure to the elements. Plus, it will give you a sense of security.
• Keep hydrated. This means bringing plenty of bottled water with you. In addition, there are products you may purchase, such as water purification tablets and water filtration systems, which will allow you collect additional water outdoors and make it drinkable.