Getting lost can happen to anyone when you are in the outdoors. You think that you are on the right trail only to suddenly realize you haven’t seen a trail marker in over an hour. And when you try to retrace your steps to find your way out, you find that everything begins to look the same.
Getting lost can be merely a small inconvenience if you can quickly find your way out but being lost prolong and not being prepared to be out past daylight can lead to serious problems. Here are some ways I do to avoid getting lost while hiking.
1. Do research prior to going to a new place
Proper trip planning will mitigate most of the issues because you already have an idea where you are going and what is to be expected. So, what is considered good research? It is important to know the duration of the climb and the difficulty level of the terrain. Is the trail well marked? Are there confusing diversions? What to expect, what to bring and who to call for help, etc. – everything should be a part of your research. Share my hikes is a good place to look for information by the way. If you can’t find these pieces of information and are not confident to venture on your own, go with someone who’s familiar with the trail.
2. Be aware of your surroundings
Getting lost usually occurs when we’re in the moment of having “too much fun” and become complacent while hiking. Take note of the major landmarks which you pass by, like a huge rock or a unique tree. Anything “unique” or “out of the normal”. When you come to a split road, take note of the direction which you have taken. Pay extra attention to “hidden trail diversion”, usually in the form of Y junction. For example, when hiking uphill, it seem like are hiking up on a single route, only to realise when returning that the route you came from is actually a Y fork junction. This can be especially tricky, and relies on being aware of your surrounding to avoid this, so pay attention to this.
3. Stay on the main trail
Most often people get lost because they wander off from the main trail. It may be tempting to take a shortcut, explore the unknown and try a different route. Know and be aware that venturing off the main trail greatly increases the possibility of getting lost. Be extra careful and observant when taking a side trail to attend to nature’s call. The urge of relieving yourself may make you forget to stay observant and you will soon find yourself alone and not exactly sure how to go back.
4. Use a GPS tracker
Use a GPS tracker and actually know to use one (download a handphone-based application, e.g. Geo Tracker and bring spare battery).
A GPS tracker records and marks the route you have taken so you can back track the same route. Whatever device/application you are using, test the accuracy and learn how to use it prior to your trip. Technology is good, but it can fail; wonky GPS signal, dead battery or faulty phone, anything can put you off. A GPS tracker is good to serve as a backup reference in time of need, but do not rely solely on technology, as technology can fail. Continuing to be observant while hiking is the prudent approach.
5. Use alternative marking to mark your way the moment you feel not confident.
Collect small branches, twigs and whatever you can find naturally to bundle them up and use them as your unique trail markers to help mark your way out. I have also seen places where they drop small pieces of paper along the trail to mark the way. Although paper is bio-degradable, it is still good to pick the paper up on your way out as it can be pretty unsightly if everyone starts doing this.
Being prepared decreases your chances of getting lost and lets you enjoy your trip.