What to do when lost in the woods c. Forest Service 1946

Take a fun step back in history with advice about what do when if you find yourself lost in the woods. Scroll to the bottom to see the original document from the U.S. Forest Service.

A clear head will find itself. If everyone remembered this, there would be fewer reports of persons lost in the mountains and forests, according to United States Forest Service rangers.

Merely being out of sight of others in a strange forest gives many a man the creeps – a natural feeling but a dangerous one. Never yield to it. In the mountains the grip of panic is too often the grip of death. 

“Finding oneself when lost is the test of a man,” says a veteran of the Forest Service who has seen men, women and even children save themselves by sheer pluck and presence of mind. Loss of mental control is more serious than lack of food, water, clothing or possible proximity of wild animals. The man who keeps his head has the best chance to come through in safety.

The following helpful rules are worth remembering: -

  1. Stop, sit down and try to figure out where you are. Use your head, not your legs.
  2. If caught by night, fog, or a storm, stop at once and make camp in a sheltered spot. Build a fire in a safe place. Gather plenty of dry fuel.
  3. Don’t wander about. Travel only downhill.
  4. If injured, choose a clear spot on a promontory and make a signal smoke.
  5. Don’t yell, don’t run, don’t worry, and above all, don’t quit .

If caught out toward nightfall, the traveler is urged to find shelter quickly – a ledge, a large boulder or a fallen tree – clear a space of ground and build a fire. If without a blanket, he may build his fire in a deep hole, cover six inches of hot coals with six inches of earth and sleep on this. Failing fire, one should use leaves and branches to shelter himself as best he can. A boy lost on a southern California mountain peak spent three nights safely in this manner.

Signal fires are the quickest way to attract attention. Build them in an open spot cleared of all inflammable material so that fire won’t spread into the forest, (you don’t want to burn yourself up, of course). In the day time throw green branches and wet wood on the blaze to make smoke. The eagle eye of the Forest Service lookouts or the observers in forest patrol planes or commercial ships may spot your smoke. But it is difficult for an observer in a plane to see a lone man in the forest, so the lost person must use ingenuity, and the signal smoke is the best method of attracting attention.

A word from the Forest Rangers to the new camper, hiker, or vacationist ----

It is better to carry a clear head on your shoulders than a big pack on your back. Yet in going alone into the forest it is well to go prepared to get lost. A fish line and a few hooks, matches in a waterproof box, a compass, a map, a little concentrated food, and a strong knife carried along may save a lot of grief. A gun may help as a signal, seldom as game.

A thinking man is never lost for long. He knows that surviving a night in the forest he may awake to a clear dawn and readily regain his location. His compass may be useless because of local magnetic attraction but he may know what kind of vegetation grows on the shady and what on the sunny side of a ridge. He knows that streams going down and ridges going up do not branch. He knows that wild food which sustains animals may be eaten sparingly; that he will not die of hunger as quickly as of thirst; that he must remain where is is or push on to some definitive objective, but not the point of exhaustion; that someone will be looking for him, and strength in that knowledge makes hardships easier.

Keep the old brain in commission and the chances are you will come out of the woods on your own feet.

Forest Service, 1946.

original instructions Page 1
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original instructions Page 2
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Embrace the wobble and six other lessons I learned as a novice cross-country skier

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Weather can be fickle. Sometimes short sleeves suffice. Other times, dress for a frozen tundra.

Two and half years ago I moved to Montana. During my first winter I discovered cross-country skiing. Now in my third winter in Big Sky country, I thought it my duty to pass along some cross-country wisdom I have gathered thus far.

Embrace the wobble.

It’s a shaky sport. You’ll be gliding down the smallest of hills, a bump really, and all of the sudden you sense sudden doom involving you and a certain pile of snow ahead. The key to it all? Be ok with the wobble. Bend your knees and absorb the bumps and you’ll be fine. Or you’ll still end up in the snow. 

Accept that you will fall down.

I have heard of no one, no one, who hasn’t fallen down while cross-country skiing. Heck, I fell down last month while standing still and I’ve been doing it for three years. The best part? Most of the time you’ll fall into white fluffy stuff.

Groomed trails are your friend.

Now I know, some people are far more adventurous than I and more power to them. But as someone who is still early in their cross-country career, I love me a freshly groomed trail with tracks waiting to take me away. Do a bit of research ahead of time about the state of the trail and you’ll be glad. Note - some cross-country skiers take their sport very seriously; be sure you’re skiing the right direction of the trail. Sadly, most groomed trails don’t permit dogs, so leave fido at home for this adventure.

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Bless you groomed trails.

Be prepared.

It’s very possible you’ve heard this more times than you care to, but really, it’s true. When cross-country skiing, it’s easy to take a wrong turn that puts you on a longer trail than you were prepared for. Or maybe it’ll start blizzarding. It happens. Bring water. For the love of winter, bring snacks. An apple or sandwich on the trail will be the best apple or sandwich you’ve ever had. And bring layering options. You’ll easily get very warm and then bitterly cold.

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Your hair or beard may freeze. This is normal.

Downhill skiing and cross-country skiing – not so similar.

While they both include the word skiing, don’t let that deceive you. For downhill, you are locked and loaded with your skis. They are an extension of your body. It’s a beautiful thing. Cross-country is more akin to wearing tennis shoes that are tied to two long toothpicks. Don’t get me wrong, I love it. But as a lifelong downhill skier, I was expecting more crossover between the two.

Hills you encounter are equally fun and terrifying.

Unless you happen to stumble upon a perfectly flat trail, you will encounter some ups and downs. And that first down is more than a little frightening. But remember tip #1 and you’ll be fine. And once you make it down (one way or another) you’ll be ready and excited for the next one. Hopefully.

Be ready to be exhausted in the best way possible.

Cross-country skiing provides one of the best full body workouts  you can get. What makes cross-country skiing stand apart is how much your upper body plays a role and the combination of “pulling” and “pushing” muscles you’ll use. You may not feel it whilst in the white winter wonderland, but your body is working hard. Schedule some time to take it easy, especially after the first few times of the season.

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Lolo Pass, Clearwater National Forest, Idaho. 

What piece of advice would you tell a new cross-country skier?