Heather Donahue or anyone else who's been unintentionally stuck in the woods overnight will tell you: Getting lost is no fun. There are more than 1 million acres of natural landscape to enjoy in roughly 260 California State Parks, but before heading into the wild it's wise to take a few precautions. Joe Walsh, national media spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service, says that campers getting lost are "not a major problem," but he does offer this advice:
1. Take someone with you.
Going into a forest by yourself is "a very, very foolish thing to do," he says. Travel with at least one other person so if someone gets hurt, another person can go for help.
2. Make your plans known.
Let others know where you are going, how long you expect to be away and when you plan to be back.
3. Talk to the rangers.
When entering the forest, talk to local rangers to find out if there are any problems you should be aware of in the area you plan to visit. Find out where local stations are, how often the rangers visit different areas and be sure to get a phone number for the main ranger station.
4. Pack the right gear.
At the very minimum, you need a compass and, ideally, a map. These days, cell phones work just about anywhere, so you might want to bring one along in case of emergency.
5. Dress appropriately.
You should always wear hiking boots. And depending on the conditions of where you are going, you'll need to determine whether short or long pants are appropriate.
So you've followed all that advice and you've still managed to get lost? Here's what to do:
1. Don't panic.
Take a deep breath. If you're not in immediate danger, sit down and try to calm yourself.
2. If it is nighttime, do not attempt to go anywhere.
You won't be able to see where you're going, which could result in injury or lead you further afield.
3. If it is light outside, walk in a straight line.
Make note of some landmark, like a mountain, and either walk toward it or away from it. If you see that the landmark is always appearing on your right after so many minutes, you're probably walking in a circle.