What To Do If You Get Lost Outdoors: STOP

by Paul Kirtley

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In a previous post about northern forest firelighting techniques, I mentioned that I wanted to get all of my best free material and resources in one place, here on my blog.

When you sign up for my email updates, you immediately get access to 22 free videos. Two of these videos relate to powerful but easy to remember acronyms for outdoor safety and survival. On a number of occasions, I’ve wanted to share one or both of these two videos with people to help answer a question or to add to a discussion.

The above video is one of them and in order to make it more visible I’ve created this article. It’s also a new and improved, remastered version of the original.

N.B. For the benefit of viewers who have difficulty hearing, the text below is based on a transcription of the video and follows its narrative closely.

People Still Get Lost Outdoors

Every year, there are cases of people who get lost in the woods.

And they don’t always do the right thing.

In the video above, I share some tips, tricks, and best practice of what to do if you should you find yourself lost or even a little bit geographically confused.

The thing you have to remember is STOP

It does mean to physically stop

It’s also an acronym for the things that you should do and think about.

That’s Stop, Think, Observe, and Plan.

STOP

The first thing to do though is to actually admit you’re lost.

It’s not the end of the world.

It’s an inconvenience and it can be sorted out.

But you will feel a sense of rising anxiety or even panic. So, don’t keep walking and making the situation worse.

For starters, none of us can walk in a straight line. So people tend to walk in circles or even spirals. Add to that the fuzzy, incomplete thinking that comes with stress and you’re likely to become even more lost.

What you need to do is physically stop.

Take a deep breath and calm yourself. Sit down, even have a bite to eat, a brew, or a smoke, whatever relaxes you.

Clear your head and begin to look for clues. Think about how you got to where you are. Think about the route you’ve taken. Run through it in your head and visualise your journey.

Consider the points at which you made navigational decisions and the possibility you made a mistake there. Were there any notable landmarks or large terrain features that you’d easily recognise again? Observe your surroundings carefully. This can really help to tell you where you are. Relate what you see to maps and other navigational aids.

Also observe your resources. Take stock of what you have that may be of use. Do you have a shelter or items which will help with signalling or drawing attention to your position?

Once you’ve gone through the above process, it’s time for some clear thinking. You’ve stopped, calmed yourself, thought about your situation, and how you got there. You’ve observed your surroundings and taken stock of your resources.

You have to do you best to make an objective consideration of the options open to you. Weigh up the chances of success of the different options and make a plan.

Now you’ve gathered your thoughts and gained a better fix on your location. It may well be possible to use tried and tested navigational techniques to relocate and continue on to safety.

Can you simply backtrack and return to a known position? This is something rarely done by lost persons, but often very viable, even more so if you possess tracking skills.

And if neither of these are an option, it’s best to make yourself comfortable and wait for rescue. But remember to make yourself visible and be ready to signal to searchers.

So that’s the essence – S.T.O.P. It’s a simple, easily remembered acronym which provides a surprisingly powerful framework for you to think about what to do in difficult situations outdoors from minor geographical confusion to serious outdoors emergencies.

Remember to Stop, Think, Observe, and Plan.

I hope you find this useful knowledge. I hope it serves you well if you ever need it.

If you like the video please share with others via the social media buttons above so others might also benefit.

If you don’t already have access to the 20 free videos mentioned in the video above, get them here.

Related Material On Paul Kirtley’s Blog

A Framework For Preparing Yourself For A Survival Situation

Survival Psychology With Dr Sarita Robinson

The Importance Of Leaving Word Before Heading Into The Wild

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Paul Kirtley is an award-winning professional bushcraft instructor. He is passionate about nature and wilderness travel. In addition to writing this blog Paul owns and runs Frontier Bushcraft, a wilderness bushcraft school, offering bushcraft courses and wilderness expeditions.

 

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Johan Hoogendijk

Hi Paul!
Excellent writing and mega important in any kind of crisis or survivalsituation!
It’s all about mental resillience and staying in ‘contact’ with your neocortex.
I would add an extra T to the STOP: Take a breath & Think. While being stressed and in the ‘tunnel’ you need fresh oxygen in your frontal part of your brain. Otherwise it’s impossible to think rationaly (or able to reflect on your future actions. This we teach policemen in the Netherlands!
At the moment we’re developing this STOP-method (adaptive selfregulation).
I’ll keep you updated on this subject!

Greetings,

Johan Hoogendijk

Reply

Paul Kirtley

Hi Johan,

It’s good to hear from you.

Thanks for your interesting comment. I look forward to hearing more about how you are developing and applying this.

Warm regards,

Paul

Reply

Charles R. Stevens

Many years ago (30?) I had an opertunity to attend a training session with an SAS servival instructor wile serving with the US Army. He expresed his belief ( certainly a bit of humor) that all you needed to servive was the ability to make a “cupa” lol. He humorously expresed to a bunch of young Infantry “know it alls” that if you were lost, stop, light a small fire, boil some water and make a cup of tea (or coffee). His theory was that it took focus to accomplish this basic set of skills under stress (your lost!) and buy the time you have calmed down enugh to get that cup of hot water, you are in the right frame of mind to plan your next move, be it reoriantate and continue on mission, move to a known safe location, or shelter in place (depending on just how “lost” you were) Certainly the need for personal security in a combat enviroment added complications, such as conceiling yourself and your small fire (if you honestly were in s situation that alowed that risk).
I still cary a lighter, case of strike anywears and a hand full of tea and coffee bags in my vest or jacket pockets. Not to mention a baterd old tin cup, lol

Reply

Paul Kirtley

Hi Charles,

Thanks for sharing this – a good story and proof that good advice stands the test of time.

All the best,

Paul

Reply

marsha

Thanks Paul! I’ve been lost before and what a terrible experience it was. I was new to hiking in the forest and spent 9 hrs with my poor dog looking for a way out. I wish I had this information then! I’ve posted this on Facebook I hope that’s ok. Thanks again!
Marsha

Reply

Paul Kirtley

Hi Marsha,

Yes, getting turned around in the woods is very disconcerting and, as time goes on without relocating, increasingly stressful.

I’m glad your situation came to a positive end. Out of interest, whereabouts was this.

No problem about sharing on Facebook.

Warm regards,

Paul

Reply

Ian C

I remember being taught this quite awhile ago and thankfully not forgotten it I was also taught to get a brew on if possible.

Reply

Kullcraven

Hello Paul well said, i have been in the bush all my life, and i have never been totally lost, got turned around a couple times but always found my way out. Tho you are totally right, i never used the stop method, but makes perfect sense and i’ll probably use that to teach others. I did a video on a lost hunter and building a camp with only a knife. Tho i dont go over what to do if lost in detail, just briefly, if you get a chance check it out, let me know your thoughts please. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MI5DJB7wgFA
Thanks for your time and keep up the good work.

Reply

Paul Kirtley

Hi there. Thanks for your comments. I’ll check out your video.

Warm regards,

Paul

Reply

Jim Watkins

Hi Paul
As always your short subject videos are short,to point, and timeless as is outdoors survival skills. You
can become disoriented or “lost” no matter your wildlands skill level; the key is to calm down and keep
warm, eat and drink water. Then it is easier to think. In most western developed countries there are
roads or maintained trails within a few miles. High mountains provide landmarks: streams lead to a
likely road, etc. The flat terrain forests of middle US/Canada do render it easier to get lost. Hunters
get lost each year under fog conditions; many under equipped succumb to hypothermia when their
vehicle and road is nearby.
Best Regards Fellow Outdoors Folk
Jim Watkins- Pacific Northwest

Reply

Paul Kirtley

Thanks Jim 🙂

Reply

Joe Neill (Electricdrjoe)

Cold and raining on my first solo deer hunt in the big piney woods of Texas. I had been following large deer tracks since lunch, when the light began to fade. I gave up to head back to camp. Having traveled east for several hours I pulled out my compass to head back west. My compass was broken. No problem I would just walk in a straight line back to the creek I was camped on. An hour later I had circled back to the clearing I had left when I checked my broken compass…..

Paul your information is always interesting. Your video skills are great I think you would have better response if you changed your delivery style. The first 7 seconds need to capture the attention of the audience. They call it the hook in advertizing. Nobody cares about seeing great graphics and your face as much as what will be of interest to them. The hook should be both visual and audio. I would start with the second best information and end with the best tip so they will want more. I realize there may be a cultural difference with how you are perceived, but this comes across as dry. Start right in with a story where you were lost and what you learned from it. Tell the incident explain the benefit and ask them to take action. At the beginning show one of your great photographs and at the end you can show your great graphics. No more talking head shots unless necessary to brand you. Then only do so at the end.

Did my true story make you want to read on? Would you have been more likely to listen to a suggestion or watch your graphics of you wondering the woods, stop lights, and computer screens? Is this something a reader of viewer could relate too?

Brevity is the sole of wit. Take the time to make your good work short.

Incident
Benefit
Action

Reply

Pierluigi Tucci

Hi Paul, great video!!!
Two times I got lost outdoors and thanks to that STOP achronim I still alive.

Very usefull and dependable trick.

Many thanks and regards.

Pierluigi Tucci

Reply

Roy Henshall

Great video, loved it, might need it one day with my map reading skills.

THANKS PAUL
KEEP THE FAITH
HEDGEY

Reply

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