Nature Escapes

Afraid of Getting Lost in the Jungle? Learn How to Deal With This Dilemma

Never be embarrassed or afraid to admit about being lost in the jungle ... Never.

Whether you're the group leader or one of the gang, getting disoriented in the green path maze under the closed forest canopy is not too difficult. And usually there are too many jungle trails lacking proper signs and too few good maps to guide you. These conditions easily turn a jungle excursion from excitement to angst.

Rainforest Hiking Forest Waterfall Jungle Trekking

How are some of the ways people get separated from others, the trail or camp?

  • Getting thrilled about following a new bird and then realizing ... oops ... where did the trail go?
  • Walking out of camp at night to go to the toilet and forgetting how to return.
  • Going ahead of everyone and choosing a trail path that the others bypass.
  • Relying on a faulty map, a wrong compass reading or just plain wandering without thinking.

All of these lost in the jungle situations call for calm. Stay where you are and assess facts from fiction.

Lost in the Jungle: Being the Ones Lost

Unless you've got a pangolin in your pants ... don't panic. Trying to make a decision under duress is not a good idea.

Your first decision in the next half-hour needs to be the best one. Too many mistakes are made when everyone is yelling and the air is filled with anger. So remember the first thing to do: STOP> Sit, Think, Observe and Plan.

A good attitude is your best asset. Keep your head screwed tight and don't just react to the dilemma. No two lost episodes are the same, but here are some general guidelines to follow:

  • Stay Calm and Stay Where You Are. If nobody is in danger, then don't move. Wandering in the forest only befuddles those searching for you.
  • Prepare Your Own Signals. Be aware of rescuers trying to signal and make contact with torchlights, whistles, tree drumbeats or shouts.
  • Take an Inventory of Supplies. Water, food, dry clothes and material for shelters are all essential items.
  • Conserve Body Heat and Energy. Do not risk getting cold or wet to allow hypothermia to creep up; wear multiple layers and stay under shelter.
  • Move Away From Hazards. Don't risk your safety being exposed to strong winds, rain or lightning, move nearby and leave a sign - trail tag or rock marker - at your last stop.
  • At Dark, Get Rest. Don't travel at night and light a fire if possible; switch-off on guard duty to watch for rescue signals.

How will you handle being lost in the jungle? Do you know your own behavior patterns? Here are some different reactions and some startling outcomes to being lost:

  • Finding a Trail. Thank goodness a trail! Let's start hiking and get back to camp. Is this the right trail or the right direction?
  • Trail Direction. A lost person rarely reverses direction on a trail.
  • Following Own Logic. Ignore the trail and let's head in a straight line to find a road faster. Doh! Look at the size of that river crossing.
  • Hike to Higher Ground. Think getting on top will surely be a better view? In the jungle trees obscure the view from everywhere.
  • Find Civilization. Heading downhill or downstream to find people? Multiple streams run throughout most jungle valleys, so how to choose lah?
  • Motion Sickness. Lost people like to move to be proactive rather than stay in one place. But shifting aimlessly is far worse than staying put.

Lost in the Jungle: Finding the Ones Lost

Ahem ... there are no hard rules to being lost in the jungle, only advice. But the one rule to really follow is to communicate. Let others know about your rainforest activities, your schedule and where in the jungle habitat you intend to go.

Whether in a group or on your own, the best way to prevent getting lost is to talk before you walk.

When you realize someone's missing, don't rush to send out the search party. First decide who's capable and how many people can join the posse and who stays behind.

A critical task for the search party is to not lose anyone else. Use the following guidelines as search protocol to get everyone back to base camp safe:

  • Gather Information. Start with questions: Where seen last? What direction? What time? What did they wear? What gear do they have?
  • Establish Search Area. Estimate how far the person could travel and determine a perimeter. However, the longer a person is missing, the larger the area becomes. Finding a lost person is an emergency, so get help fast.
  • Quick Check Search. If the last place a person was seen is nearby, then make a quick search for clues and shout out for responses.
  • Try a Hasty Search. Organize parties in pairs and assign specific search points based on probable sites. Teams should shout out or whistle and listen at various intervals. Look for clues such as clothing, ground marks, and dropped gear for 20 to 30 minutes and then return to base camp to inform the coordinator.
  • Make a Secondary Search. Perform another search with new information and ensure teams are outfitted with food and gear to last into the night. Each search team should stay in sight of another when dark.
  • Go for Help. If no results come within 1-hour, send a team out to alert a rescue team; other teams can continue secondary searches.
  • Perform Line Search. Once outside help arrives, perform a line search with plenty of people and time. Each searcher must be able to see all the ground between them and the next person. Narrow your search area based on solid clues and stop the entire group when signs are spotted.
  • Stop the Search. If on your own determine when to stop based on weather, terrain, lack of sleep and other risk factors. Rest before risking another victim. If a rescue team arrives, rely on their expertise and resources to know when to stop or restart efforts.

Lost in the Jungle: Being Lost for Days

When the situation looks bleak with no signal or sign of a rescue, then prepare yourself for jungle survival. In many scenarios, you can survive 3 days without water and 2 to 3 weeks without food. Keeping a positive attitude - despite the circumstances - is vital for dealing with the ordeal.

When you realize that you're stranded and lost in the jungle:

  • Attend to immediate dangers first - exposure, injury, or sickness.
  • Assess all of your resources and needs for a few days.
  • Identify hazards and remain calm to explore options.
  • Attend to the basic elements of survival - attitude, shelter, water, food and fire.
  • Signal for rescue.

Jungle survival techniques depend on key elements derived from any survival situation. After you acknowledge your dilemma and take stock of supplies, then attend to the following basic needs:

  • Good Attitude. Maintain a positive outlook to keep your spirits up and your survival wits sharp.
  • Make Shelter. Protection from harsh weather, heat exhaustion or hypothermia relies on being covered and dry.
  • Find and Manage Water. Water is at a premium, search for probable sources and watch your intake.
  • Manage Food. Your body should have plenty of reserves, but eat enough to keep up with energy demands.

[Disclaimer: The above information was adapted from The Backpacker's Field Manual, Three Rivers Press (2005) and buttressed with personal jungle experiences. Always rely on your own resources, discretion and instincts in any jungle emergency situation.]

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