STOP What You are Doing!

STOP What You are Doing!

Stop sign
Photo: Gary Truman

In a crisis or emergency your thinking can become clouded.  Stress, adrenaline and fear can all play a part in this.  In the outdoors this may be compounded by tiredness, dehydration, low blood-sugar, being wet, cold or too hot.  You may even be injured. 

When you are miles from help, you and your companions are in the best position to deal with the situation.  If you rush headlong into it, though, the above factors can cause you to make decisions and take actions that are sub-optimal.  Such decisions and actions could make the situation worse or even be downright dangerous.

Remember the normal laws of nature still apply.  The fact you have a crisis to deal with doesn’t mean you get any special dispensation.  All the objective hazards that were present in the environment before – fast flowing rivers, steep slopes, cliffs, crevasses, thin ice, dangerous wildlife, for example – are still present now.  You have to make your decisions wisely.  You need some thinking time.

You will be helped greatly in difficult situations by employing the acronym STOP.  It is simple, yet powerful. 

S – Stop.  The first thing to do is to physically stop.  Don’t panic.  Deal with any time-critical medical emergencies first.  Then calm down and catch your breath.  Don’t waste another step until you have gathered your thoughts.  If you feel disorientated or lost, continuing in the hope of recognizing something familiar is likely to get you even more disorientated.  The further you stray from your original path, the harder it will be for searchers to find you if they need to come looking.  Try to relax.  Admit to yourself you are in the situation.  Sit down.  Have a drink and a snack.  If you smoke, have a cigarette.

T – Think.  Think about your priorities. Additional first aid? Shelter? Fire? Calling/signalling for help? Water? Re-orienting yourself? Think about how you got into your situation.  There may be clues as to how to get out of it.  If you are lost, can you re-trace your steps to a recognisable landmark which can also be located on your map?  Can you back-track using your tracking skills?  Even if you are not skilled in tracking, there may be obvious footprints in soft mud, sand or snow.

O – Observe.  Observe your surroundings.  Observe the landscape.  Observe the dangers.  Observe the resources – shelter materials, firewood, etc.  What do you have on your person?  What other equipment or materials do you and your companions have?  What are the strengths and weaknesses of your companions?  How many hours of daylight do you have left?

P – Plan.  Now that you have calmed down, prioritized, and taken stock, you can think clearly and plan a course of action.  Be deliberate and practical.  If you are not alone, discuss the plan.  If you are on your own, talk to yourself out-loud if it helps.  If you are lost, use trusted navigational techniques to re-locate yourself.  If you are unable to find or make your own way home, use your other bushcraft and survival skills to make yourself comfortable and easily spotted by searchers.  You should use the acronym PLAN-M to address your needs in a survival situation.

Stop Again

It’s possible that you will need to use STOP several times.  Initially you may need to deal with urgent priorities then later deal with longer-term needs.  At each stage, stop, think, observe and plan

Follow your plan but be flexible.  Things change.  Adjust your plan if necessary but don’t chop and change repeatedly.  Be deliberate and practical.  Remember to STOP! 

Related Material On Paul Kirtley’s Blog:

PLAN Your Skills for Survival

Essential Wilderness Equipment – 7 Items I Never Leave Home Without

A Framework For Preparing Yourself For A Survival Situation

14 thoughts on “STOP What You are Doing!

  1. Thank you Paul , very good . Look forward to your ‘articles’ in 2011. Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.


  2. You know I don’t there can be any more important message that that of this article, Never rush around, it just means you will be tired ,wet, hungry then cold, sad and everything will feel a hundred times worse. Sit think and plan your way home.

  3. I really like examining and I think this website got some really utilitarian stuff on it! .

  4. Good piece Paul. So hard sometimes to resist the temptation to plough ahead when you are lost or take the first action that comes into your head when things go wrong. Makes me think of opening scene of movie Cliffhanger (guessing you’ve seen it!). Ludicrously implausible in every way except the way in which everyone reacts to the unfolding disaster.
    Cheers, T

    1. Hi Tom,

      Thanks for your comment. Yes, that urge to keep going, to go a little further, can take you to a bad place. In terms of getting lost, that urge to see what you can see around the next turn or over the next rise, just gets you more and more dislocated, until you are disorientated. In other instances you injure yourself. Or you become exhausted. Always best to make a calm decision. STOP helps us do that 🙂



  5. STOP is a very good strategy.
    I also like “make yourself a cup of tea” as compliment to it 🙂

  6. As an IT professional, I’d say this advice is just as good for a server going down as it is for being lost in the woods. Thanks.

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  8. I found a couple dashing about on Scafell Pike a few years ago, rushing around in the fog, she was crying and hew was panicked, it took a while to calm them down and get them back down. STOP would have been very useful for them.

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