Lost in the WIld

Lost in the Wild – Mental Preparation

Imagine you’re lost or injured – perhaps 20 miles from the nearest forest road – deep in the wilderness under heavy cover.

Your whistle isn’t getting any attention, and your signal mirror is doing nothing more than annoying birds in the forest canopy.

You have survival gear: fire starter, water treatment tablets, and other potentially life-saving items.

You’ve discovered  you’re completely alone and there’s no help on the way. What do you do?

I’ve been in situations that have made survival equipment and a survival mindset necessary to get home safely.

I’ve hiked far into the Southwestern desert and into a more serious predicament than I realized at the time. It was scorching hot and I was far from any water. I remained completely calm, partly due to the naivety of my youth.  I didn’t realize the severity of my circumstances.  A level head got me out of a serious situation.

I’ve also been off-course in the woods (after a run-off by a momma bear) and had to gather myself to find a way out. Initially, I wasn’t as calm as I should have been, but I soon managed to control my thoughts. This taught me how easy it can be to become side-tracked and disoriented. Dismissing  the encroaching  anxiety and keeping my cool helped me find my way out to a forest road.

Two of the most important survival points that I’ve been sharing with my students and others over the years are: 1) Leave an itinerary, a schedule, and a copy of your gear list with a couple of concerned friends or family members; and, 2) If you become lost, one of the first thing you should do is to bring your mind under control.

If you’ve been lost, you’ve likely felt those anxious feelings that affect your body and mind. Controlling them is crucial.

Fear is a normal response to actual or perceived danger. If ungoverned, it can worsen the situation. Without mental management, other survival efforts will be negatively compromised  or impossible to perform.

Remember, even if you’ve left your plans with others, you might need help on the first day of your 3-day trip. Your friends and family will not expect you back for a couple more days. So, help will not be dispatched until you’ve been gone more than 3 days.

Therefore, it’s up to you to manage your situation. You’ll need to dismiss any potentially debilitating emotions that could hinder you from taking proper care of yourself. You must remain positive and focused.

Fix your attention on providing for your needs. Do what’s needed to maintain your core temperature, and be sure to stay hydrated.

Do whatever is necessary to provide for your health and safety right where you are (if it doesn’t require relocating – which is often discouraged but sometimes the right thing to do).  Other survival techniques and strategies (shelter, signal fire,…) can be deployed as needed.

Some have totally panicked after becoming lost. They let their anxiety get out of control causing them to run deeper into the wilderness or make other mistakes. As a result, some have become seriously or fatally injured.

There are also some textbook or hobby survivalists who have plenty of surplus gear and know clever gimmicks, but have a false sense of security that lacks any practical experience. They’ve read plenty of survival forum posts, and watched the popular videos on constructing laborious shelters from wilderness debris and how to make nifty bow drills. But perhaps lack the mental prowess that comes from actual experience and realistic training.

It’s a good idea to practice as many of your wilderness survival skills as possible, before they are actually needed. Learn realistic scenarios and develop the mental attitude and mindset to endure them.

Avoid sensational survival instruction that isn’t based on real-life situations that you’re likely to encounter.  Is it likely that you’ll need to sleep in the carcass of a dead animal, raid a beehive for honey, or repel down a waterfall?  It’s more likely that hikers will become injured (from a fall) or lost.  There’s good and sensible training available for such circumstances.

You might be unable to adequately gain the proper experience for some things, without placing yourself in danger or breaking the law. But practicing the skills that are feasible (appropriate) will go a long way toward preparing yourself for a survival situation.  It important to build a strong survival mindset.

Survival can require more than equipment and education.  Experience is a great teacher.  Yes, it’s possible to survive a situation having never experienced it before, but it’s likely it had a lot to do with mental strength – a will to survive that conquers fear and circumstances. In essence, this is mental experience.

Certainly physical preparation, or having what’s needed on hand, can help support mental confidence, but mental experience (strength) will be more important in certain circumstances than physical experience or equipment.

When you’re out hiking, take time to rehearse your skills and mindset. Imagine you are completely lost and must survive with only those things that surround you. Decide how you will regulate your core body temperature. Consider what’s available for providing shelter. Where will your water come from? What will you (eventually) eat?

This will provide mental experience that will give you the courage and peace of mind to focus on and perform the physical things that are needed to keep yourself alive.

Develop a personal phrase (passage, mantra,…) and survival mindset that you will use to manage and focus your thoughts – thereby overcoming fear or other mental obstacles.  If you ever become lost or stranded due to injury, this mindset will help you direct your thoughts into a positive survival strategy that could save your life.

You don’t always know when you’ll be put to the test in the wilderness. Your level of mental preparedness may be all that you’ll have to go on.

Prepare your mind.


Bernie Wild is a general preparedness writer, speaker, instructor, and consultant. He’s passionate about sharing his ideas and experiences with others. He enjoys hiking, photography, and spending time with family and friends. Bernie may be reached through AbsolutelyPrepared.com.

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