As more Americans hit hiking trails, search and rescue teams are in higher demand. Each year, about 2,000 people are reported lost and nearly 7 out of 10 go missing in wooded or rural areas.

Fortunately, some find their way out or are rescued quickly — but many others become stranded overnight or even for several days.

“In many situations, staying in one place is the best thing you can do. After all, there’s no guarantee that there’s anywhere better just around the bend,” says “Survivorman” star Les Stroud. “As a general rule, if you don’t have any idea where to go or how you will provide for yourself along the way, then staying put makes sense.”

“Most studies show that people walk-in circles when they are lost, due to unfamiliar terrain and land features in their way,” Stroud says. “As a result, they become even more lost and make it harder for searchers to find them.”

Les Stroud making a fire(Photo: /Provided by Les Stroud) 

Stroud, who has hosted and produced the “Survivorman” television series on Science Channel and Discovery, shows viewers practical ways to handle life and death situations. The Canadian outdoorsman has traveled the world and says the key to survival is always the same: Be prepared for the worst.

Before any adventure, he says, remember to give friends or family an itinerary. “Your chances of being rescued are better if you left behind a trip or flight plan,” Stroud says. “Within the first 24 to 72 hours, there’s a high probability of rescuers finding you alive. After five or six days, they are more likely to find bodies.”

A venture into the woods can go awry quickly so bring along survival basics, including food and water. Stroud recommends every backpack include:

  • bandana
  • compass
  • flashlight (small LED)
  • two garbage bags (large and preferably orange)
  • lighter (preferably butane)
  • strike anywhere matches in a water-proof case
  • magnesium flint striker
  • metal cup for boiling water
  • multi-tool or Swiss army knife (make sure it has a small saw blade)
  • painkillers
  • parachute cord or similar rope (about 25 feet of ¼ inch cord)
  • protein bar(s)
  • sharp belt knife
  • solar or space blanket
  • whistle
  • medium or large zip-close bag

“If you are unprepared, and many hikers are, most likely you can find some food and water around the area,” says survival expert Captain Mykel Hawke, a U.S. Army Special Forces Green Beret veteran and co-star of The Travel Channel series “Lost Survivors.”

Related: Mykel Hawke’s Tips for How to Survive Being Trapped in a Car During a Blizzard

“Anybody can get stuck out there and you’ll first have to get food, water, fire and shelter,” adds Hawke. “If they can’t get a fire started then they should know how to seek shelter.” If you build a fire, it will both keep you warm and signal to rescuers that you’re in the area.

When the temperature drops and night approaches, make the most of the natural terrain, Hawke says. Build a fire, if you can, or find shelter under a bush, a rock face, or even dig a shallow hole in the ground (or snow) and cover yourself up with dirt or leaves. The goal is to survive overnight by retaining body heat and staying out of the wind.

“Your shelter needs to be as close as possible to a source of drinking water. The farther you have to travel for water, the more energy and precious calories you burn in doing so,” adds Stroud. “That said, you shouldn’t choose an otherwise poor location — for example, the coldest or buggiest spot in the valley — just for the water source. Try to balance proximity of water with other factors.” Also, try to find shelter where you’ll have the best chances to be seen by rescuers and have resources nearby.

Finding fruit and berries, fishing and even hunting for food are valuable skills when lost.

“The more food you eat, the more water your body needs for digestion. So if you are short on water, then eat less food or you’ll speed up the dehydration process,” says Stroud. “On the other hand, if you’re near a large source of fresh drinking water, force yourself to drink every half-hour. This not only keeps your system flushed and clean but also makes your stomach feel like there is something in there. This is a trick I use all the time while filming survival ordeals.”

Finally, be on the alert for rescuers. Try to attract attention by tying a piece of cloth on a tree branch or spelling out “help” or “SOS” with rocks or sticks. Follow the “answer a noise with a noise” rule. If you hear a noise, respond with one of your own. If it’s an animal, it will run away, but if it’s a rescuer, he will (hopefully) find you. 

Ronald Agrella is a freelance writer and former editor of The Boston Globe’s