It’s late in the afternoon, you’ve been snowshoeing, and you’ve lost track of your car. The sun and the temperature are dropping, on top of that it looks like there’s bad weather on the way.

Hopefully, you told someone where you were going.

I’ve made that mistake before. It was 2 a.m., and I didn’t want to bother anyone. I ended up in the middle of nowhere with a turned ankle on the hike back to my truck. In the three hours it took me to hobble two miles, and the hour and a half drive back to the world, anything could have happened. I was lucky, but more than that I was foolish.

You can’t count on being lucky. "The most important thing is to tell your family and friends your plans." said Lt. John Harlin of the Natrona County Sheriff's Department. "Increasing your chances of survival starts well before you go into the field."

But if you’re lost, and night is approaching, what do you do while you wait for help?

  • First, don’t panic. You need a clear head to make the decisions that could save your life.
  • If you’re in a safe place and can find shelter, do it. Get out of the elements as much as possible while staying in the area.
  • Collect sticks and wood to burn and build a fire. Fire is the best way to keep yourself warm.
  • If you can’t build a fire, nestle under pine trees that can keep you sheltered from wind and snow.
  • Make a thick bed of pine needles to insulate yourself from the ground. If you don’t have a space blanket in your pack, use one of your layers of clothing to wrap around your thighs. A lot of blood moves through the femoral arteries, and keeping them warm can be a trick against getting hypothermia.
  • Don’t sweat. When sweat is exposed to the air, it will rapidly cool and drop your body temperature.
  • Melt snow for water, but don’t eat it, the cold can lower your core temperature. Melt it with a fire if you can, or put some in your water bottle and shake it up a bit to help it melt.
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Anna Shaffer works on the Star-Tribune production team as a copy editor. She joined the newspaper in early 2016 after graduating from Casper College. Along with her degree, she picked up a love of film and carting her guitar into the Wyoming backcountry.

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