How Not to Get Lost in the Woods: 5 Steps to Stay Found

Getting lost in the wilderness isn't fun. These five steps will help keep you on track during your next hike.

Wondering how not to get lost in the woods on your next hike?

If you’ve ever been hiking and found yourself lost in the wilderness, then you know how scary it can be. It’s not uncommon for hikers to get turned around or completely lost because they were unprepared.

The good news is that there are things we can do to reduce our risk of getting lost while on the trail. These five steps will help keep your adventure from turning into a nightmare.

Related: 10 Mistakes That Can Kill You in the Outdoors

1. Learn How to Navigate with a Map and Compass

It’s important to know how to read a map and use a compass when hiking in the backcountry. If you don’t have this basic skill, then it’s best not to undertake any long-distance hikes or off-trail ventures into forested terrain where detailed maps are needed for navigation.

It also helps if you practice navigating with your map and compass on easy-to-read terrain before you set off on an off-trail trek that requires some navigation skills.

If you don’t know these basics, it’s best not to venture off-trail. However, even on-trail hiking requires map-reading skills, so there’s no better time to start learning than the present. As you get more comfortable with your map reading and compass abilities, you can take on more navigationally challenging hikes with confidence.

2. Research Your Route Before Leaving Home

If you’re new to hiking and not sure what to expect, then it can be helpful to spend some time researching the route before leaving home. However, even experienced hikers should take the time to research their route before leaving home. Doing so helps ensure that you know what to expect in the mountains.

Websites like PeakVisor offer tons of information about some of the world’s best hiking destinations. On these websites, you can learn where a trailhead is located, how strenuous the hike will be, and what wildlife you might encounter.

For more detailed information about trail closures and other hazards, check out the website of the local land management agency. This could be a national forest, state park, or anything in between.

Ultimately, doing research about a trail before you leave home can help you be prepared for the trail conditions, which can prevent you from getting lost or disoriented.

3. Check Your Map Regularly While Hiking to Stay On Route

It’s important to check your map regularly while hiking in order to stay on route.

If you’re out for a short hike, then this might not seem like a big issue since the trail itself can serve as a guide. However, regularly checking your map—even when on-trail—can help you stay oriented to your surroundings.

By frequently checking in on your map, you’ll have a better idea of where you are as you hike. Doing so helps ensure that you’re in a better position to find the trail again, should you accidentally wander off the beaten path. If you’re not paying attention to the map, you might not have a good idea of where you are, which will make it hard to find the trail.

4. Bring a GPS and Know How to Use It

A GPS (global positioning system) is a great tool to help you stay on your hiking route, whether you’re on- or off-trail.

Using your phone’s GPS is a popular way to ensure that you’re on the right track. But keep in mind that using a phone’s GPS is a sure-fire way to drain its battery. Phones are often more sensitive to cold and wet conditions than purpose-built hiking GPS units, so they shouldn’t be used as your sole source of navigation.

Alternatively, consider investing in a quality hiking GPS. These devices can give you your exact coordinates, which you can then plot on a map to determine your location.

Of course, this technology can fail, and it’s only useful if you know how to read a map. But as an extra tool in wilderness navigation, a GPS is one device that you shouldn’t leave home without.

5. Hike With a Friend

Finally, it’s always best to hike with a friend or group of friends, especially if you’re new to wilderness navigation.

If you’re hiking with a group, then the chances that someone will get lost are slim. If one person in your party gets separated from the rest of their crew and loses their way, they can rely on their friends to call for help. However, if you hike alone, you’re left to your own devices if you get lost on the trail.

Of course, there are benefits to solo hiking. But hiking on your own requires complete confidence in your own navigational and risk management abilities. So, consider hiking with friends until you’re a true wilderness navigation maestro.

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