How to Avoid Getting Lost on Trail

staying foundGet­ting lost is no fun. It can make you retrace miles, miss a camp­site, and keep you out past dark. At worst, it can lead you into dan­ger­ous expo­sure. The best way to avoid these prob­lems is to stay on track at all times. As every hik­er or climber knows, this can be hard, espe­cial­ly when you’re in deep woods or on a riv­er where one bend can look much like the next. Here are some ways to avoid get­ting lost.

Look at the Map
This may sound obvi­ous, but most of us don’t break out the topo map until we real­ize we’re lost. Now you have the hard work of find­ing your start­ing place and fig­ur­ing out where you lost the route and how to get back. Start your trips by look­ing at the map. Or on the sea, a chart. And don’t just look at a map for trail infor­ma­tion. Learn how to read a topo­graph­ic map to spot cliffs, ravines, and oth­er land­forms. This will help you know how the land­scape depict­ed on the map will look in reality.

Spot Land­marks
Use land­marks to know where you are. Promi­nent peaks, rock for­ma­tions, rivers, and val­leys can give you a sense of your loca­tion in the land­scape. When the angle seems off, you’re prob­a­bly not where you should be.

Def­i­nite Spots
Deep in the for­est, you may not have obvi­ous land­marks. Look for spots where you can know pre­cise­ly where you are at a giv­en moment: where a trail cross­es a riv­er, dis­tinc­tive turns or switch­backs, a giant rock. This will tell you where you are when there’s not much else to go from.

Watch the Clock
Pay atten­tion to how long you’ve been hik­ing (or pad­dling, ski­ing, etc.). If you know some­thing should be two miles away, you’ll know the aver­age hik­er will bump into it in about an hour—if you don’t, it’s time to stop and assess where you actu­al­ly are.

Get A Fix
When you’re con­fused about where you are, get a fix. This estab­lish­es your position—a nec­es­sary step before you can decide which way to go. Learn how to take a bear­ing off a def­i­nite object (i.e. a peak) with a com­pass. Bear­ings from three points will pin­point your loca­tion. Then, it’s sim­pler to get your­self where you want to go.

Know Your Direction
Once you’ve got­ten your fix, you can find the rough direc­tion you need to go to reach your des­ti­na­tion. It may not be the most direct line since we’re in moun­tain­ous land­scapes, but now you can fol­low a bear­ing to your next spot.

Don’t Rely on Gadgets
Go old school. Instead of star­ing at the screen of your GPS, learn how to read a map and use a com­pass. They won’t run out of bat­ter­ies or lose a sig­nal. A GPS is cer­tain­ly use­ful in fea­ture­less land­scapes, but it has you star­ing at a screen instead of the moun­tains you came to see.