If You Are Lost

Remember an acronym favored by the Emergency Response Institute of Olympia, Wash.: S-T-O-P. Stop, Think, Observe and Plan.
  • Stop: If you feel uncomfortable with your situation, don't go any further. Don't panic, either. Young or inexperienced backcountry travelers should be taught to stay put once they feel lost. "Hug a tree" is familiar, and worthwhile, advice. The rule changes if the area is unsafe or someone in your group needs medical attention. Count to 10, drink some water or eat a little food. These acts often give you a fresh perspective and help you better assess your situation.
  • Think: Where were you when you were last certain of your location? Was it at a trail junction? A river crossing? A place where you can take bearings to obvious physical landmarks that appear on the map? Can you navigate back to that point? Can you hear or see helpful landmarks like a road or trail? If so, carefully return to that spot and reevaluate your options. Remember, you can take control.
  • Observe: Put your senses on full alert. Picture in your mind all distinctive features you spotted as you came to your current position. Remember the details or any oddities that spurred you to make a mental note. Can you use them as waypoints to guide you back to a place where you were confident of your location? If so, return to that spot. Can you connect with a known trail from that point? Do so. If not, stay put. It's easier for rescuers to find you near your original line of travel. Are there any items there that can be useful to you? Any hazards you need to avoid? When will it get dark? How does the weather look?
  • Plan: If you are with others, talk over a plan. If not, it can be useful to say the plan out loud as if you were explaining it to someone else. If it makes sense, then follow your plan. If not, revise your plan. If the situation changes as you follow that plan, use "STOP" again to improve your chances for a safe recovery.
Tip: Are you confident that you are near a "baseline" object such as a major road? If so, and you are certain of its direction and have sufficient daylight, consider bushwhacking to that object.

This clinics was borrowed from the REI website
Advisers to this clinic:
Rick Hood, director of Navigation Northwest (, a search-and-rescue education service. Bob and Mike Burns, authors of Wilderness Navigation: Finding Your Way Using Map, Compass, Altimeter and GPS (The Mountaineers).