...that others may live

Hug-A-Tree and Survive

The Hug-A-Tree and Survive program is designed to teach children ages 5-12 how to keep from getting lost, what to do if they become lost, how to stay warm and dry, and how they can help searchers to find them. The program originated in San Diego, California, following the tragic death of a nine-year-old boy who had become lost in the woods. For more information on the history of the Hug-A-Tree and Survive Program, please click here.

The Hug-a-Tree and Survive Program teaches children and their parents the following principles:

  • Hug a tree - Once you know you are lost, hug a tree! One of the greatest fears many of us have is being alone. Hugging a tree or other stationary object and even talking to it can help calm you down, and prevent panic. And most important, a tree can provide you with valuable shelter. By staying in one place, you will be found far more quickly, and won't be injured in a fall.
  • Always carry a whistle and a trash bag - Whenever you go hiking, you should carry a whistle on a lanyard around your neck and a trash bag. By making a hole in the side of the bag (so you don't suffocate!) for your face, and putting it over your head, it will keep you dry and warm. The whistle can be heard from farther away than your voice, even when you are yelling very loudly. And it takes less energy to use.
  • Your parents won't be angry with you - Time and again, children have avoided searchers because they were ashamed of getting lost, and afraid of punishment. Anyone can become lost, even adults! So don't be ashamed. Just admit it, accept it and take actions to be comfortable while you wait for the searchers to arrive. Your parents will be so happy to see you again, and to know that you are safe. So there's no need to be frightened or worried about that. And they will be so proud of you for using your head since it is your best survival tool.
  • Make yourself big - From a helicopter or airplane, people are hard to see when they are standing up, when they are in a group of trees, or wearing dark clothing. Find your tree to hug near a small clearing if possible. Wear a brightly colored jacket (red and orange are easy to see from far away) when you go into the woods or the desert. Lie down when the helicopter flies over. If it is cold and you are rested, make a large cross (X) or an "SOS" using broken twigs, branches, or rocks, or by dragging your foot in the dirt.
  • Animals are afraid of humans - If you hear a noise at night, yell at it! If it is an animal it will run away to protect itself. If it is a searcher, you will be found.
  • You have hundreds of friends looking for you - Many children who are lost don't realize that if they will just sit down and stay put, one of the many searchers will find them. The searchers will be yelling your name, but they are not angry. They are just worried about you and want to find you as quickly as possible. Don't be afraid to let them know where you are.

West Valley Search and Rescue regularly presents the Hug-a-Tree and Survive Program to local elementary schools, scouts and other youth organizations. There is no cost to participate in the program, and all class participants receive a free emergency whistle and a program manual/coloring book. Each presentation concludes with an open question and answer session.

If you would like to schedule a Hug-a-Tree and Survive Program presentation for your organization, please e-mail us at westvalleysar@westvalleysar.org. For additional information on the Hug-A-Tree and Survive Program, including downloadable program materials such as the coloring book and a parent's guide to the program, please visit the National Association for Search and Rescue (NASAR) Hug-A-Tree and Survive Program website here.