Who is most likely to get lost while hiking?

We at the Mountyn Company love to collect adventure stories, and anybody who ventures outside is sure to have a few. Early snowstorm catch you by surprise? Twisted ankle far out on the trail? Followed the wrong trail for miles? No water at the waterhole?
Mt Margaret
Mostly, these situations give us a momentary scare before we figure a way out. Quite often, we are prepared and know what to do. Sometimes, however, things don’t turn out so well.
Just in the state of Oregon, where the Mountyn Company is based, search and rescue experts get called to almost 1,000 missions per year.
The truth is that people do get lost in the woods all the time — and none of them expected it. If it hasn’t happened to you, good. You are probably prepared. But if you’re honest, you might acknowledge a little bit of luck too. Who among of us hasn’t breathed a sigh of relief after finding our way back to a trail that we’ve lost? Or felt the swirling confusion when realizing we are nowhere close to our planned hiking destination?
In truth, people get lost in the wilderness for many reasons. Quite often it was a result of poor decision-making, but sometimes it was just a confluence of unfortunate events. 
When the wilderness emergency does happen, everything is more difficult. You many not have cell reception. And even if you do, help is not close. You may have brought everything you need for a day hike, but lack supplies to stay overnight. When the sun drops and the temperatures plummet, you might feel the frailty of life. Fear creeps in.
In those situations our best tool is our mind. To help us all prepare, the Mountyn Company has compiled data from over a hundred wilderness survival situations. We nerded out a bit and coded the data so we could use statistics to determine reliable findings.
This is our first article outlining some of those findings. The data represents 172 individuals who spent a total of 320 days lost in the wilderness. Most survived but, sadly, a few did not. The information mostly comes from press reports. It does not encompass all wilderness survival situations — just those for which we could compile data.
Today, we try to answer the question: Who is most likely to get lost while hiking?
We have to keep in mind that the data is not random. We can’t control for the overall rates of participation in outdoor activities, and all of the survival stories we used just happened to be picked up by the press (for whatever reason). So even if these demographics prove interesting and useful, make sure to take them with a dash of salt!
  • 48% of lost hikers are males hiking alone
  • 31% are females hiking alone
  • 15% of lost hikers are in groups of two
  • 7% of lost hikers are in groups of three or more
Lesson: It seems rather clear that the conventional advice about hiking alone holds true. We are more likely to get lost if we are alone. This makes intuitive sense. A group can carry more supplies (maps, navigational aids, etc) and can use their combined knowledge and memory to get out of tricky situations. A group can often assist an injured hiker back to the trailhead.
In one incredible situation, a young woman hiking a Colorado mountain alone slipped and fell down a cliff shortly after summiting. She slid to a stop on a small ledge, dangling hundreds of feet above the ground. Severely injured and alone, she likely would have died had her cell phone not, miraculously, picked up a faint signal. Her message didn’t get through right away, but eventually it did and rescuers were able to reach her hours later. This is a situation where an accident while hiking alone could easily have meant death, but a companion could have found or provided assistance quickly.
Some more demographics:
  • 4% of lost hikers were under the age of 18
  • 27% of lost hikers were between 18–30
  • 67% of lost hikers were older than 30
  • The average age? 42
Lesson: It’s not the kids we need to worry about! May children instinctively do the right thing when they get lost — they stop moving and start calling out for help! These are actually great survival tactics! Adults too often push aside their fears and doubts about being lost until they end up completely befuddled by their location. And we adults are often too embarrassed to ask (or shout, in this case) for help when we need it.
Do you see yourself in any of the statistics above? Do you have a personal experience getting lost, or know someone who faced a survival situation while exploring the outdoors? If so, please reach out or comment! We want to hear your story!
And stay tuned for much much more data on wilderness survival situations, including:
  • When and where are people most likely to get lost while hiking?
  • If you are lost, what actions make you most likely to be rescued quickly?
  • What supplies do lost hikers use most frequently during survival situations?
  • Personal accounts of wilderness survival situationsInterviews with the military’s most highly trained survival expertsHistory’s greatest survival stories
Oregon Military Department, Office of Emergency Management, “Search and Rescue Accumulated Totals: 1996-2013,” available at https://www.oregon.gov/OEM/Documents/Accumulated_SAR_Data.pdf.
Tyler Pialet, “Colorado student recounts the day she fell of a 14er,” 303Magazine, available at: https://303magazine.com/2018/01/fourteeners-fall-survival-story-colorado/

1 comment

Stephen Corbett

Lesson: It seems rather clear that the conventional advice about hiking alone holds true. We are more likely to get lost if we are alone.


Your data shows that about 136 people hiking alone got lost*. But how many hiking alone did not get lost? 1,000? 10,000? More? You may be less likely to get lost if you hike alone.

Were they really lost? Maybe they were injured or dead…

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