Have you ever been lost in the beauty of the world around you while hiking only to have a panic attack melt over you when you slowly realize you really are lost? The trees and landmarks suddenly all look similar and the knot grows low and deep in the pit of your stomach making it harder and harder to recognize the correct direction? Getting lost can be very scary! Especially in the wilderness where you may be quite a distance or cell range from another person.
I got lost several years ago, while out hiking with my brothers on a mountain we had never been to before while looking for some chukars. When had been hiking for several hours and were nearing the top of the mountain when a low hanging mist cloud blew over and restricted our visibility. I could barely see twenty five yards in front of me. At the time, I wasn’t too nervous and continued the hike. After hiking around for another hour and still having no clue where I was, I started getting worried. I yelled for my brothers, tried to retrace my steps and looked for familiar land marks but each tree and rock formation looked the same as the next one.
Eventually, as the day got hotter, the mist cloud evaporated and I was able to orientate myself and find my way back to where my brothers were. It was from this experience that I learned so many valuable tips that have helped me to avoid getting lost while I was out hiking or fishing in the wilderness the last few years and something I have been teaching my kids while we have been out hiking as a family.
Follow these steps and you’ll be able to find your way back to safety quickly and safely:
- Take Photos while hiking
- Look for landmarks
- Review the map, orientate yourself.
- Mark your Path
- Never Hike at Night if you don’t know where you are
Take Photos while hiking
Whenever I go hiking on a new trail that I am unfamiliar with, I always take my camera or phone with a camera and take pictures along the way. This not only makes for some good memories but also allows for me to back track my way out if I am ever lost. I can compare the photos with where I am on or off the trail.
Look for landmarks
While you are hiking, look for different unique landmarks. These can be a rock formation, a tree that is either much larger or shaped differently than all the others or a unique view of a distant mountain. Look for things that stand out from its’ surroundings. Make a note of where you are on the trail and where the land mark is.
For example: Is the odd shaped rock formation on the right or left side of the trail. What direction are you traveling from when you saw that formation? These are things to remember when looking at the landmark. Simply noting the odd formation and then moving on will not help you to orientate yourself on the trail and help you get back to safety.
Review the map, Orientate yourself.
As you are hiking, have your map out as you hike. Track your movements on the map as you are hiking. Make notes on the map of the different landmarks/formations. It’s also a good idea to mark the photo number on the map so that you can jump right to the correct photo and quickly orientate yourself.
If at any time you are unsure of where you are, stop and reevaluate/ orientate yourself before continuing.
Mark your Path
Sometimes it is fun and exciting to venture off the trail to take the path less traveled. However, you are more likely to get lost if you don’t have a path to follow back home. One way to help you to avoid getting lost while hiking off the path is to put a marker on the trees or bushes.
Note: Don’t do any damage to the trees, bushes or trail.
Hikers will often tie a ribbon onto the trees or bushes so they can easily find their way back. As you retrace your steps back, simply remove the ribbon from the tree as you go back to the trail.
I like to use these construction ribbons because they are really inexpensive, very durable and will last for several hiking seasons. Additionally, I can write on them my name and the date as an extra safety precaution.
Safety Products to have with you to avoid getting lost.
1- Walkie talkie
If you are hiking in groups and you or others want to venture off the trail, take an alternative route, or stop while the others continue, it is extremely helpful to have a way to communicate and allow you to remain in contact with each other at all times.
Not only will you be able to meet back up later but you will also be able to call for help from the others if you get hurt or lost.
This is one of the best inventions for hikers, explorers and travelers. Having a good GPS will allow you to not only navigate yourself around in unfamiliar area but also allow you to take notes at different points along the path. This is one item I would not go cheap on. You don’t need to spend a ton of money but don’t put your life in the hands of a GPS system that could fail you.
This is a small and inexpensive device that every hiker should have in his or her backpack. Having an good quality compass will help you orient yourself on the map quickly and does not depend on technology or a charged battery to be reliable.