May 24, 2024

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Estimated reading time: 11 minutes

Bugging out will never be a perfect process because more than likely the cards will be stacked against you. Regardless of the reason for societal collapse, whether it be naturally caused or a result of civil war, the act of bugging out means you need to leave quickly.

Getting lost while bugging out is an easy possibility if you aren’t properly prepared, and even being prepared may still get you lost. Essential skills and some common sense can help further mitigate this scenario.

Article continues below.

First, we should look at some of the main reasons you could find yourself lost, including internal and external factors. This article aims to show you an approachable way to keep your head together and how to get yourself back on track if you’re lost while bugging out.

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Getting Lost While Bugging Out

The most thought-out plan for escaping could change in an instant. This is why it’s important not to overcomplicate your plans or gear. Instead, adopt the mindset where you utilize concepts instead of specifics, making you more flexible in situations such as getting lost.

If you’re bugging out during a natural disaster then you are more than likely to get lost. Inclement weather can cause large amounts of precipitation, earthquakes can alter the terrain, and a flood can block your passage. Adjusting your route to take a path less traveled can find you running circles in the wilderness.

Reasons You Could Get Lost

There are many reasons you could get lost while bugging out but the most common ones can include:

  • Trying to navigate during the nighttime
  • Having to take a detour due to flooding or other disasters
  • Inclement weather causes you to lose your bearing
  • You or someone in your group gets injured

A lot of the reasons for getting lost while bugging out are the same as the reasons why most hikers or campers find themselves stranded in the wilderness. With bugging out, however, you’ll have the added stress of the disaster situation which makes it potentially easier for someone to get lost.  

The Fight or Flight Response

In times of great stress, we have a physiological mechanism that causes us to see a decrease in rational thinking and an increase in spontaneously responding to perceived harm. It causes anxiety, a lack of common sense, and the inability to make decisions.

Combine that with the seriousness of the existing bug-out scenario and you have a dangerous combination of panic-induced mania and a life-threatening situation. Controlling your hormone response might be difficult, but creating an easy-to-remember plan in advance can help suppress the initial fearful reaction of being lost.  

What To Do If You Get Lost Bugging Out (SOAP)

If you do happen to get lost while making an escape all hope isn’t lost. You have your bug-out bag with enough supplies to get you through the first 72 hours. Using the SOAP acronym, you can easily remember what you need to do, even if you’re under a large amount of stress. 

1. Stop and Gather Your Thoughts

The first step is to simply stop, sit if you have to, and wait as long as it takes for you to gather your thoughts. Figuring out that you’re lost can exacerbate the fight or flight response even more than the initial bug-out scenario.

If you don’t follow this step then you will end up making split decisions that can further hinder you and make the situation worse.

Initially, you might be suffering from an Acute Stress Reaction (ASR) which may feel like a panic attack. It can cause you to have an elevated heart rate, anxiety, and hyperventilation.

The important thing is that these symptoms will abate if you give your body the time to calm down. Focusing on your breathing and slowing it down can help lessen the reaction.

If you are stuck out in adverse weather conditions, you will want to find some refuge in coniferous trees or if that fails, set up the shelter that you will have in your pack. The idea is to have a quiet space that eliminates any distractions so you can begin to make a plan.

2. Observe Your Surroundings

Observing your surroundings requires a clear head to figure out. This is because you’re going to have to recall events up until your current predicament. You’ll be looking to pick out details regarding the area you’re in, things such as:

  • What landmarks did you pass previously?
  • Do you have cellular or satellite service?
  • What direction were you going in when you got lost?
  • Do you recognize anything in your immediate vicinity?
  • If there is sun outside, what direction is it in? How high in the sky is it?
  • What does the current weather look like?
  • Is there any flowing water near you?

The idea is to gather as much information about the area around you to try and figure out what you’re going to do next. Keep an eye out for trail blazes, signs, or any indication of possible civilization.  

3. Assess What Gear You Have

Use any navigational gear to confirm your initial observations and verify the bearing you want. In your bug-out bag you should have a navigation kit with items including:

  • A compass with declination built-in to help you with true north and magnetic north
  • A topographical map of the area where you’re bugging out to
  • Pacing beads so that you can measure your own pace
  • A GPS unit (which may or may not be functional)
  • A notebook for jotting down observations
  • A cell phone camera is useful to shoot landmark reference photos
  • Binoculars for scouting

There is a better chance that you’ll find your way if you combine observational skills with the right tools to confirm your hunches. These items are not necessary but the less experience you have, the more you may have to rely on them in a bug-out scenario.

4. Plan Your Next Move

Once you have all of the pertinent information, are calm and collected, and have addressed any other problems it is safe to make your next move. Your next objective is going to be different depending on what’s going on around you.

For example, if it is close to sun down then embarking on a hike may not be the best idea. In this case, you would want to build a shelter, build a fire, and get some rest for the next day.

The same applies if the weather is too poor for traveling. Hunkering down to wait it out would be beneficial to avoid any injuries. Additionally, navigating the terrain is difficult in bad weather due to visibility problems.  

If the weather is sound and it’s early enough in the day to make your way, ensure you have a destination in mind. You don’t want to wander in hopes of stumbling across something. Using your maps and checking out any applicable landmarks can give you an idea of where you can set up camp or get a resupply. 

Tips To Help You If You Get Lost While Bugging Out

Every situation will be different, meaning a blanket approach to tactics won’t be effective. The best thing you can do is educate yourself on navigation and regularly go out to test yourself. The second best thing you can do is check out the following tips to help you if you do happen to get lost.  

The Best Prevention is Preparation

It’s better to be prepared than caught with your pants down in a bad situation. Take advantage of local programs, tutorial videos, and personal experimentation to develop your system of knowledge and skills.

An orienteering program will give you deep insight into correctly calculating bearings, how to read a topo map, and how to accurately measure your pacing. Videos like this one can add to your education with tried and tested methods used by beginners. 

Stay Hydrated

This has nothing to do with navigation but it’s an easy thing to forget when you’re figuring out how to get back on track. Dehydration causes lapses in judgment and can impair your ability to physically perform. Drinking water also helps maintain your body temperature so that you don’t overheat or get too cold which is important if you’re out in the elements.

Don’t Eat and Hike

Sit (or stand) for at least 45 minutes to give your body enough time to start digesting after eating. Your body will struggle to hike and eat at the same time, causing indigestion and cramping. Resting while eating can help you gather your thoughts and strength for the road ahead.

Fix Small Problems Before They Become Bigger

Whether it be a blister or a small hole in the hem of your pants, fix it when you notice it. Blisters can pop from the friction of walking leading to possible infections. A tear in your clothes can quickly become a large hole and without fixing, rendered useless. It’s important to address any issues as soon as you see them since you can’t afford to have any setbacks.

Avoid Hiking During The Hottest Parts of the Day

The hours between 10 am and 5 pm tend to be the hottest times of the day, especially when you’re hiking. If the sun is high up and it’s hot out then seek out some shade and try not to exert yourself. Activity in the hot sun requires that you have plenty of water and sunscreen, resources that may be precious in your current situation.

Follow A Flowing Water Source Downhill

Following a waterway or river downstream can potentially lead you to civilization. This is mainly because a lot of communities will be settled near water as they used to be the highway for goods before we had trucks and planes. It may not be the easiest trek and it could potentially turn up with no results, but in a pinch it at least gives you a direction.  

Final Thoughts

Bugging out is a high-energy activity with your focus being pulled in multiple directions. Ensuring you have the right gear and a plan in place beforehand is vital to finding your way. Utilizing the SOAP method and practicing your orienteering skills will give you a much higher chance of survival if you get lost.

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