Tents / Tarps / Bivies
Wild Camping

Lightweight Backpacks
Sleeping Bags

Wilderness Survival
Hiking Adventures

Edible Wild Plants
Survival Kits

Wilderness Survival Techniques for a Three Day Event


Some of the wilderness survival techniques you read about are really about "living in the wilderness." They are not wrong, but they are about non-essentials that you will be wasting your time on in most emergency situations. If you are likely to be missed, and search party sent out, tanning a deer hide, for example, is just about the last skill you could use. You need to know how to stay alive until a rescue comes and maximize the probability of getting found.

The truth is that most people lost in a wilderness emergency are found within three days - dead or alive. This is why even the military has recently shifted its focus from teaching hunting and trapping and even navigational skills to making fires and signaling rescuers. The whole idea is to stay healthy and help the rescuers find you.

This may be a little different for backpackers on long trips, since getting lost and losing one's pack on day two of a nine-day trip can mean waiting a week before there is even a chance for a search party to start looking. And it can't hurt to know how to catch fish, trap squirrels and identify wild edible plants. But for the average day hiker, adventurer and weekend backpacker, here are the newest wilderness survival techniques to use while awaiting help.

Three Days

You can roughly follow this plan, but as you finish one step, don't wait until the next day to start the next.

Day One - Make camp.

When you know you are lost, or you are injured and unable to travel far, the first thing to do is not to start looking for a moose to kill to hold you through the winter. Nor should you even worry at all about food. Set up a camp and make sure you can stay warm and dry.

Staying in one place makes it more likely you'll be found, which is why even the army is de-emphasizing navigational skills for lost soldiers. I recall reading about a lost hunter in the upper peninsula of Michigan, who wandered for several days in the cold woods, with searchers continually finding where he had been. Had he stayed in any one of the places he had stopped at for the night they would have found him sooner.

If you have a tent, set it up. If not, quickly make a crude shelter that will protect you from the elements. A pile of leaves to sleep under is better than nothing. try above all to stay dry, so you will not succumb to the number one killer of lost hikers - hypothermia.

Day Two - Get ready to signal searchers.

Prepare whatever you have that can reflect sunlight to passing helicopters. Arrange the letters "SOS" on open ground using logs or rocks. Spread out your most colorful and large piece of fabric (a tent fly, for example) where it can be seen. Have a fire lit or ready to light where the smoke will be easily visible.

Three is the universal number indication distress, so if you think searchers are in the area, blow a whistle three times, then wait and repeat. Fire a gun three times. Three fires in a triangle are a good idea too, especially if planes flying over might not know you need help.

Day Three - Prepare for all possibilities.

Near-term, you will need water, so make that a priority. Finding food may help psychologically if you know what is edible. Improve your shelter if necessary. Watch the weather and stay dry.

Consider when they would have started looking for you. If you are lost on a day hike and you have told people where you are going (always a good idea), you can expect the search to begin the next morning. If your trip isn't scheduled to end for another three days, you may have a long wait. Take into account the weather as well. Planes cannot search during blizzards.

What if the weather allows for a search, but you have not heard nor seen any planes or helicopters which may have been looking for you? And what if you have heard no whistles, gunshots or other signals that may be from rescuers? There is no hard and fast rule, but as a guideline wait until day four before trying to find your way out on your own.

After that long, the odds are good that no sign of a search means they're searching the wrong area, or for some reason do not know you're lost and are therefore not searching at all. It is in this unlikely event that the more advanced wilderness survival techniques become more valuable. Fortunately you can learn those in the Wilderness Survival Guide found on this website.


The Ultralight Backpacking Site | Three-Day Wilderness Survival Techniques