FORT RUCKER, Ala. (June 22, 2017) - Admit it, you're lost. You, the tough Soldier who never thought this would happen in a million years, are lost in the great outdoors. If this happened while on duty, you'd be with other Soldiers and have radios. But now, you're alone in the deep, dark woods. Your cellphone is useless and you realize you're in a tough situation.

Warmer weather is when many folks head outdoors to enjoy family and friends, thaw out from the winter and put cabin fever in the rearview mirror. The last thing you want to do is end up in the news as the "lost hiker." One thing is for sure - your buddies won't let you forget it when it's all over. However, you can deal with them later. For now, you need to focus on what to do.

After admitting you're lost, what's your first course of action? You need to stay where you are - unless it's a short distance to find shelter. Park rangers say that since your last known or reported position is where they first look for you, you might be home for supper if you just stay put. If you continue moving because you're sure you can walk out of this situation, you'll probably make it tougher for searchers to locate you. Hiking requires planning, just like any other activity involving risk. Don't think "they'll come get me if I get lost" is a plan.

The website for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, located along the Tennessee-North Carolina border, makes it clear you'd better do your homework before your feet hit the trail. It states, "You are responsible for your own safety! Travel in Great Smoky Mountains backcountry areas has inherent risks and hikers assume complete responsibility for their own safety. Rescue is not a certainty!"

The Great Smokies is the most visited national park in the nation, with 8-10 million guests a year. While most who decide to sample the park's 800 miles of trails do so without incident, others get lost. Over the history of the park, a few have gone missing and were never seen again.

Your safety is your responsibility and depends on your own good judgment, adequate preparation and constant attention. Backcountry hikers should be in good physical condition and able to survive on their own. Proper equipment and knowing how to use it are essential for a safe trip. Here are a few basics to help you get started:

• Let a responsible person know your route and return time.

• Always hike with another person. Keep your hiking party together and stay on officially maintained trails. Always keep children in your sight when hiking. Do not allow them to get ahead of you or fall behind.

• Carry a current park trail map and know how to read it. A handheld GPS or compass could also be useful, but make sure you know how to use one properly. Practice before your hike.

• Carry two small flashlights or headlamps - even on a day hike. If you have trouble on the trail, darkness may fall before you can finish your hike.

• Take a minimum of two quarts of water per person per day. All water obtained from the backcountry should be treated either by filtering or boiling.

• Bring some jerky or trail mix to snack on if you do become lost. It will give you some energy to fight off the cold weather.

• Carry a small first aid kit designed for hikers and campers. Make sure you include medications for those with medical conditions.

• Check the current weather forecast and be prepared for quickly changing conditions.

• Wear shoes or boots that provide good ankle support.

• Avoid hypothermia, the dangerous lowering of body temperature, by keeping dry.

• Avoid cotton clothing. Dress in layers that can be easily removed or added as you heat up or cool down. Always carry a wind-resistant jacket and rain gear - even on sunny days.

• Don't attempt to cross rain-swollen streams. They will recede rapidly after precipitation stops, so waiting may save your life. When crossing any stream more than ankle deep, unbuckle the waist strap of your pack, wear shoes and use a staff to steady yourself.

• Familiarize yourself with the local wildlife and know how avoid confrontations with it.

Sure, you may be in good physical shape. But if you live at or near sea-level, you may not realize how thin the air is at 7,000 feet, advises Al Nash from Yellowstone National Park. People unaccustomed to the rarified air at higher altitudes are vulnerable to dehydration and suffering the effects of overexertion. If you become disoriented, Nash recommends staying put and sounding, on a regular basis, that emergency whistle you brought with you. (You did bring one, didn't you?) A signal mirror can also be a lifesaver by allowing you to alert aircrews to your location.

The difference between being home for supper and sitting in the dark, shivering under a tall tree in the forest, could be up to how well you planned for your hiking trip. Remember, your safety in the great outdoors is your responsibility.

Did You Know?

Each year, the president, governors and other officials proclaim June as Great Outdoors Month. Get out and enjoy America's natural beauty, but always be safe.