Unplanned Overnighter

You and/or your hiking party are lost, injured, delayed, or just too slow. You cannot get off the trail in time and it is getting dark. You’re stuck in the woods for the night.

  • Stop.  Sit down, close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, calm down.
  • Think. Is there any reasonable way to avoid this. If not, then…
  • Assess and inventory what you have to work with. People/helpers, supplies, tools, food, water.
  • Develop a workable plan with who and what you have at hand. Attend to the priorities:
    • Health first. Stabilize any major medical concerns.
    • Shelter next. Is it cold? Will it rain? Howling wind?
    • Optional (fire) for both warmth, light and comfort.
    • Water can wait until morning.  You may be thirsty, but you can live for several days without water.
    • Food can wait even longer if necessary.
  • Establish communications. Use your cell phone if you can.
  • Signal your location to search and rescuers with a whistle, bright clothes, lights, fire and smoke, whatever makes you more visible and audible. Help them find YOU.
  • By morning, re-assess your plan on how to get out or get help.

Here’s a few things to always keep in the bottom of your pack.

  • Inside a quart sized Ziploc Freezer bag (thicker), carry the following:
  • Two or more big trash bags ..or.. a mylar emergency blanket ($4) ..or.. a HEETSHEET emergency blanket ($7)
  • A butane lighter and a few firestarters (see below for info on firestarters).
  • A whistle
  • A small compass
  • A squeezy keychain flashlight or small flashlight (use a lithium battery for long life).
  • A small folding knife.
  • A Granola bar or candy bar. Eat and replace often to keep it fresh. DO NOT use dietetic stuff because it’s the calories you want in an emergency.

All this should easily fit in the Ziploc bag and weight much less than a can of 12 oz soda. If and when your unplanned overnighter happens, these items will help make your stay an adventure rather than a miserable  memory.


A firestarter is anything that can be lit easily and burn for 10 plus minutes. Use it to help start your gathered wood burning.

You can buy dry commercial firestarters typically used to start charcoal for the barbeque.  Carry a few.

Or you can make your own by melting candle wax over a double boiler (a tuna can inside a saucepan with boiling water). Cut corrugated cardboard into 2, 2-1/2 inch  squares and dip it into the melted wax. Stack three to form a sandwich. When dry and hard, tear a corner, light it and place it under a small pile of twigs to start your fire. The waxed cardboard will light and burn even in a misting rain.