If you’re a fan of The Sopranos, you likely remember the Pine Barrens episode of Season 3. In a nutshell, Paulie Walnuts and Christopher Moltisanti ended up stuck in the woods after failing to dispose of a Russian target properly.
It was comical. Picture this: two macho mafiosos walking around in circles, doing their best to return to their car. They had no food except suspect berries and ended up using a broken-down van for shelter. Paulie lost his shoe. They were like little boys wandering around a crowded amusement park, trying to find Mommy.
Moltisanti said it best:
“Captain or no captain, we’re just two assholes lost in the woods.”
At that point, what do you do? You have no cell service, it’s pitch black, and it’s looking like you’ll be around these parts for a while.
In the unlikely event that you find yourself in such a bind, this article should be helpful.
Immediate Tips For When You’re Stuck in the Woods
First, let’s start with the initial steps, the measures you should immediately take.
Get a grip: First things first, chill out. Take some deep breaths. Think. Getting all spun up won’t do you any good. It’ll probably make things worse. If you find yourself panicking, breathe deep from your abdomen. Bring yourself out of the worrying mindset and back to the present moment. A simple mindfulness practice will go a long, long way.
Look for landmarks: Now that you’re calm, remember any landmarks you passed by. It could be a distinct tree, a big rock, a stream, or anything that’ll help you recognize how you came. Keep a close eye on these landmarks, as they could be your guide towards the way out.
Make markers: Remember to mark your path. Snap branches, build small stone stacks or use anything to help you identify where you’ve been. This way, you will avoid walking in circles like Christopher and Paulie did.
Find Shelter: Being stuck in the woods has many uncertainties, so your next priority is to find some shelter. Look for natural formations like caves or overhangs. You won’t always be as lucky to find a broken-down van in the middle of a forest.
Go downhill: If you’re completely lost, a good rule of thumb is to head downhill and follow the water. Humans like to settle near water, so following a stream or river could lead you to civilization. Eventually.
The Next Courses of Action
You’ve found shelter near a lake but see no signs of human habitation. It’s the middle of the night in peak winter, and you’re freezing your ears off. What do you do next?
From this moment on, survival mode begins. If you’re lucky, the rescue team will find you within the next few hours. But what if they don’t?
Get a Fire Going
Building a fire should be number one on the priority list. A makeshift fire pit keeps you warm and serves as a cooking vessel. At the very least, it allows you to boil water.
Pat yourself on the back if you have a pocket lighter, but let’s assume that you don’t. Bonus points if you have a plasma lighter. They work in any weather and in at any altitude. Let’s say you don’t have one of those either. Here’s how you get a fire going, old-school caveman style:
Collect Your Materials: You’re going to need tinder (small, light material that catches fire quickly), kindling (slightly larger sticks and twigs that’ll burn longer), and fuel (large logs to keep your fire going).
Hand Drill Method: This is the basic survivor-man stuff. You need a spindle (a stick about as long as your arm), a fireboard (a flat piece of wood), a socket (a stone or another piece of wood to put pressure on the spindle), and a bow (though this is optional).
- Create a slight depression in the fireboard and place your tinder underneath it.
- Put the spindle in the depression, apply pressure with the socket, and start rubbing it between your hands, running them quickly down the spindle to keep the motion going.
- It will take some elbow grease, but if you do it right, you’ll get hot dust igniting your tinder.
Remember, safety comes first. Ensure you put out your fire entirely and never leave it unattended.
Gather Drinking Water
You can survive much longer without food than without water, but it must be from a clean, potable source.
You’re better off getting drinking water in the nearby river you found than if, let’s say, you came across a swamp. Stagnant water will never be an option for consumption.
But even flowing water can contain bacteria, so boil it before gulping it down. Rainwater also works, and you can drink it straight up.
Collecting morning dew is a third option, but it requires some work. You can soak the leaves with a cloth and wring them into your mouth or a container.
Signal For Help
There are a few ways to attract attention for yourself and get help when you’re stuck in the woods. They won’t work immediately, but these methods are a good starting point.
Smoke Signals: If you’ve managed to start a fire, add green branches or leaves to create smoke. Three puffs of smoke is a universally recognized distress signal.
SOS: Make a big SOS sign on the ground using rocks, logs, or anything else visible from the air. Remember, SOS is three short signals, three long signals, and three short signals again.
Signal Fire: Create three fires in a straight line or a triangle, another universal distress signal.
Mirror Signals: If you have a mirror or any shiny object, you can use it to reflect sunlight. Aim the reflection at planes or distantly visible rescuers.
Sound Signals: Make noise! Three loud whistle blows, gunshots, or even shouts at regular intervals can draw attention.
Flashlight: At night, you can use a flashlight to signal for help. You can also use the SOS pattern with light signals.
Keep These in Mind For When You Get Stuck In the Woods
The woods may seem daunting, but remember, they’re just trees. Stay calm, gather yourself, and put these tips to work. Find your shelter, secure your water source, pick food, start a fire, and ensure you’re visible for rescue.
It’s no walk in the park, but with patience and resourcefulness, you’ll be swapping stories about your adventure in no time. So hang in there. You’ve got this!