10 Essential Tips for Wilderness Survival


​​​​Lost in the outdoors of Wild, Wonderful West Virginia? Here are 10 expert tips to stay safe and find your way home.

SAR Pocahontas County.pngGetting lost, especially in the wild woods of West Virginia, can be overwhelming, but with the right knowledge and preparation, you can increase your chances of survival and find your way back to safety.

From the West Virginia Emergency Management Division's (WVEMD) Search and Rescue Coordinator, these tips can help you stay calm,​ make informed decisions, and ultimately, make it out of the woods safely. Whether you're a hunter or just an occasional hiker, this information could be a lifesaver when you find yourself facing the unexpected while in the woods.

Here are 10 important tips from WVEMD's Search and Rescue veterans about what people can do if they become lost:

1. Stay Calm and Stay Put: The moment you realize you're lost, STOP moving. The best course of action is often to stay put. Panic and wandering can make it harder for search teams to locate you.

2. Signal for Help: Use items such as whistles, mirrors, bright clothing, or a flashlight to attract attention. Three short whistle blasts, flashlight beams (flicking flashlight on and off), or other signals repeated in a series of three represent the universal distress (SOS) signal.

  • You may build a fire to signal rescuers, but only if it is absolutely safe to do so.

3. Tell Someone Your Plans: Always inform a friend or family member about your planned route and estimated return time. This information can greatly assist search teams in locating you if needed.

  • Make sure to include where you'll park your vehicle.

4. Carry Essential Supplies: Pack a small survival kit containing water, food, flashlights (more than one), a first aid kit, multi-tool, an emergency or “space" blanket, and a whistle. An extra survival supply is a filtration straw which allows you to drink water more safely from creeks or streams in an emergency. These items can support you until help arrives.

  • Include medications vital to your health, such as epi-pens, asthma inhalers, diabetes supplies, etc.
  • A cell phone does not replace survival items like a map or flashlight. Always carry essential supplies in your survival kit.

5. Stay Visible: If you need to move to find help, stay in open areas and make yourself visible. Avoid dense vegetation or steep terrain that might hinder your movement.

6. Follow Waterways: If you're in an unfamiliar area, following a river or stream can often lead you to people.

7. Stay Hydrated and Rest: Conserve energy by staying hydrated and resting when needed. Overexertion can lead to exhaustion and disorientation.

8. Use Landmarks: If you have a map and can identify landmarks, you might be able to navigate yourself back to safety. Always carry a map and compass when venturing into unfamiliar territory.

9. Stay Warm: Hypothermia can set in quickly, even in mild weather. Dress in layers and use your survival kit to stay warm.

  • ​Carrying an emergency or “space" blanket can keep you warm and help signal for help.

10. Stay Positive and Stay Vocal: Maintain a positive mindset and keep talking to yourself or to searchers. This not only boosts your morale but can also help search teams locate you.

Please note that these are general guidelines and may need to be adapted based on the environment and situation you find yourself in. Always prioritize your safety and follow any instructions provided by local officials or search and rescue teams.

Follow @WVEMD on social media to know about future Search and Rescue trainings. Contact WVEMD Search and Rescue Coordinator Jeff.O.Cunningham@wv.gov for more information.

References and Resources:

Contact Information

Lora D Lipscomb, Public Information Officer