If you have ever been lost, you know the rush of emotion that overcomes you when the trouble is realized. At the exact moment when being lost is confirmed, a person will either make the situation worse by "freaking out," or they'll figure out the next move if they remain calm and focused.
A popular acronym used throughout the hiking community, STOP, reminds a lost hiker what to do when they first realize they're off course. Following are what each letter of STOP represents to a lost hiker and if followed, the odds are greatly increased in a safe recovery.
S = STOP
Simple as that. Do not go rambling around in a frenzy, hoping to find a quick fix to your problem. Sit down, relax and have a drink of water and a snack. Once your composure is regained, then and only then are you ready for the next step.
T = THINK
If you have a working compass, decide which way is north and relate that bearing with what direction you headed when leaving the trailhead or last known break point. If you are not alone, calmly consider your partner's thoughts and come to an agreement on the next move.
O = OBSERVE
Begin looking around at your surroundings and tune in your senses. Hear a road noise in the distance, or a flowing creek, or a barking dog or any other sign of civilization? Check your gear to ensure you have ample water supply and consider how much daylight is left.
P = PLAN
This is game time. If you are sure you have your bearings realigned and if time allows, go ahead and begin your return route. If not 100 percent sure, it's better to prepare a camp at the spot you stand. Wait for help. Of course, help will only come much quicker if you have informed someone of your hiking plan.