Picture this. You’re on vacation up in the mountains. You were hiking along, and decided to explore an interesting side trail. Before you know it, the trail disappears into a mess of weeds and trees, and as you turn around in every direction, you realize that you have no idea where the trail is. Then it dawns on you. You’re lost.
Being lost is no fun. I speak from experience. So, let me tell you what helps. Number one – having light. I know it’s a cliche to say that a light in the darkness sweeps all shadows away – but you know what, it’s absolutely true. Having just a small source of light in the middle of an eerie, dark forest can help your psyche, and it can also help you find some good kindling to get a fire going.
Then there are other huge factors that can give you enough hope to keep you from going into a mad panic – like having some idea where you are, what direction you’re headed, and what you’re supposed to do to get yourself out of the sorry situation you got yourself into.
In this article, I’m going to show you why having a cellphone when you’re out in the wilderness is so important. And this importance doesn’t come from the fact that you could call 911. No – there are still many areas off the beaten trail where you actually won’t have a signal. All of the following tips are actually ways that you can use your smartphone to survive, even without a cellular signal.
5 Tips to Increase Your Chances of Surviving
My family once got absolutely hooked on watching documentaries on Netflix about people getting lost and nearly dying before getting rescued. It always amazed me how there was sort of a pattern in every situation. In each case, the person was usually completely unprepared for the environment that they were heading into. One woman went hiking in the Grand Canyon with shorts, a single water bottle, and her dog. Another guy took his daughter on a drive for miles into the desert with barely enough water and food to last three days – and walking out would take nearly a week.
Beyond preparing yourself for the environment that you’re going to face, is always having the tools and information on you that you might need in a survival situation. There are really just a few things that can make a huge difference in increasing the odds of someone making it out of that kind of situation – knowing where you are and what direction you’re headed, being able to see when it’s dark, knowing what you need to do to survive, and knowing what you need to do should things go wrong.
What could go wrong in the wilderness? A whole lot that most people are never prepared for. There are poisonous animals and plants, trip and fall hazards and hypothermia to name just a few.
Avoid Walking Blindly
The first mistake people make when they first get lost is to walk blindly in the direction that they “feel” will get them unlost. Nine times out of ten, this near-panic walk/run takes them zig-zagging in every direction, getting them even more horribly lost than they were originally. This is where a smartphone app like 4D Compass [No Longer Available] would come in handy.
Holding up 4D compass will show you the horizon in front of you, and it’ll give you the compass bearing in front of you. As you can see, it’ll also show you north, south, east and west.
If you turn on the “Towns” feature, the compass will also show you the distance to the world’s most populated locations. Now, I’m not about to hike 370 km to Quebec to get out of the Maine woods, but at least I can get a sense of direction by seeing the direction of locations that I recognize.
I’ve seen Quebec on the map in relation to Maine, so in my head I’ll understand which way I’m facing – even though everything around me looks identical in every direction.
Of course, there’s absolutely no better way to find your way out of a mess like that than having a GPS device. Of course, who carries around a TomTom or a Garmin in their back pocket? But you sure do have that smartphone, don’t you?
The problem is that you can’t really use an app like Google Maps in a place without a cell signal, because it pulls map data using your data connection. Have no fear, with your Android, you have access to a great offline GPS mapping app is available called MapsWithMe [No Longer Available].
This app lets you download full maps of the areas where you’re going to travel, before you go there. When I first installed the app, I downloaded Maine, so anywhere in Maine that I go, I now have the offline maps available all the time. The paid version of the software is even more detailed, if you’re interested.
Finally, the last tool you can use to avoid walking blindly is an Android Torch app of your choice. My favorite is one that’s aptly named, Torch [No Longer Available]. There’s really no “best” app here – it’s such a simple task. Just turn on the camera flash so that your smartphone transforms into a flashlight.
You may be wondering how a person could get away with running GPS and/or the camera flash without quickly draining down the cellphone battery to nothing. Well, my solution was to purchase a “AA” battery powered charger that can pretty much make it so you can use these apps so long as you have AA batteries to keep recharging your phone. Believe it or not, the life of charging with AA batteries gives you something like 28 hours of playing audio, 20 hours of playing games, or 10 hours of talking, according to the iGo powerXtender Amazon listing, anyway.
I’ve personally seen such a battery pack in use, and can confirm that it works. So if you’re going to head out to the wilderness, at the very least, throw one of these in your pocket and bring along a decent supply of AA batteries – just in case.
Know How To Survive
Now that you know which way you have to head to get out of the woods, and you’ve realized that it’s probably going to take you a day or two of walking, you have to set up camp and you have to think about food.
Almost anywhere you go, you should be able to find edible plants. Most survivalists advise to turning to this option only as a last resort, because so many plants can be very dangerous to eat. But if you can’t find grubs or ants to eat, you may need to turn to planets. So having theapp handy could very well save your life.
Just pick your location, and you can start researching the plants that you’re looking for, that are supposed to grow in the area where you’re lost.
Each listing gives you detailed photos of the planet, and lots of very useful tips on whether the plant or parts of the plant is edible, and how to prepare it for eating.
Of course, knowing how to survive in the wilderness is more than just food. You need to know how to make good shelter, how to stay warm to avoid hypothermia, how to find or make water, and lots more.
If there’s one, single app that I’d recommend to anyone heading out in the wilderness, it’s the U.S. Army Survival Guide [No Longer Available]. If there’s a similar survival guide offered by the military in your own country, by all means download it, so long as it offers the same sort of detail as this one about things like how to handle the psychological stresses of being lost, how to prepare a survival kit, and much more.
The app actually consists of Chapters – it’s like one big e-book that’s organized in such a way that you can just search for and hop around to the chapter that has the information that you immediately need.
The articles are very thorough, and include lots of detailed descriptions and diagrams to help you through the task.
Then of course, there’s the unthinkable. You get yourself hurt – falling out of a tree while trying to get food, or making some other tragic mistake. Such a situation can mean the difference between life and death, so knowing how to treat those injuries can greatly improve your odds. So, having an app like AR First Aid [No Longer Available] can be a real lifesaver (literally).
This app lets you quickly search for whatever injury or ailment you’re suffering from, and it gives you a detailed step-by-step set of instructions to take care of yourself.
Unlike the American Red Cross app that keeps telling you to call 911 if you’re in a situation that’s really bad, this app tends to give you at least more instruction on things that you can do even though the injury is pretty bad. But really, any first aid app will do, so long as it’s detailed and written by the experts.
As you can see, many of these apps are really based on information. When you’re lost, having information is power. It’s one thing to be home and to be able to check Google on how to do things, but when you’re lost in the woods and have no clue how to waterproof your shelter from the incoming storm, having your Smartphone ready to walk you through it will have you thankful that you have it with you.
These are only a few of the apps that could save your life in the woods, but there are surely more. Do you know of any useful ones that can help people get out of a sticky situation in the wilderness? Share your ideas in the comments section below.
Image credit: middle aged man hiking via Shutterstock