Learn to use a topographic map, GPS and compass and always carry them
Trust your compass. Many people get lost because they don’t believe their compass. Global Positioning Systems (GPS) units have become very affordable and can be extremely useful. However, they are only an aid to navigation and must be used along with a compass and map. Knowing your GPS coordinates may be of little help if you cannot figure out which way and how far you need to walk to reach safety.
Pick out landmarks that are easy to find at the end of the day
If you hunt or hike south of a road that runs east-west, for example, then you know that by walking north, you will eventually come to the road. Keep these kinds of landmarks in mind before your trip and during it, especially when light wanes at the end of the day.
Carry a small flashlight, extra batteries and bulb
Few things are more frustrating than being stuck in the dark. If you do have to spend the night in the woods, even a small flashlight will be a great help in finding shelter or gathering firewood.
Bring a watch and know what time it gets dark
Many people leave too little time to get out of the woods before dark. Cloudy days keep you from telling time by the sun.
Carry a cell phone
If you will be in an area where coverage is available, then a cell phone with a fully charged battery can be a lifesaver. Leaving word with a contact person, however, is still highly recommended.
Bring waterproof matches and fire starter material
If you do have to spend a night in the woods, a fire can make the difference between a tolerable experience and a nightmare. Waterproof matches work better than cigarette lighters when wet, and some lighters can be hard to operate with cold hands. A candle and strips of paper can be used to help light a fire re.
Wear a pack to carry clothing, food and water
For a short trip, you will need at least a fanny pack, but a knapsack is better for cold weather use. Remember, it’s easy to stay warm when you’re moving, but if you have to spend the night out, you will want all the clothing you can get. Hypothermia can kill even when temperatures are above freezing. A tiny emergency “space blanket” can save your life.
Prepare for the weather
Check the forecast before your trip, and assume the worst. If the forecast calls for a chance of showers, assume it will pour. Rain gear is a must. If the forecast predicts flurries, expect a snowstorm. In cold, wet weather, wear wool or synthetics. Do not wear cotton (including blue jeans), as it absorbs water and drains your body heat. A hat that covers the ears is also very important in cold weather. Without one, your head and neck can radiate up to 40 percent of your body heat.
Bring extra food and water
Your body can’t function unless you keep it fueled. Becoming dehydrated or not eating enough can cause hypothermia, which can lead to physical debilitation or mental confusion and poor decision-making. If you plan on using drinking water from streams in the woods, filter or treat it to avoid intestinal distress or disease.
Leave word with someone about your whereabouts and expected time of return
Make sure your contact person has the phone numbers of the local Forest Ranger, DEC emergency dispatch (518-891-0235) and the county emergency dispatch.