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How to Avoid Getting Lost While Hiking/Camping/Backpacking

Getting lost in the outdoors is not fun but it is a high probability event that happens all the time. How to avoid getting lost while in outdoors? Read this article to get 11 practical tips.

By Thea | @Aiblue

Updated on Aug 27, 2019

Nobody wants to get lost in the outdoors when they go hiking, camping, backpacking, climbing, snowshoeing or participate in other outdoor activities. However, kinds of reports about missing hiker are not uncommon. It would be best if the lost person were found safely. But you see that not everyone is so lucky to be found safely. Some of these missing hiker, camper, climber, etc. were either found dead or never be found anymore. This is terrible news for their families. People travel to relax and feel the unknown world. Guaranteeing yourself out and home safely is the most important thing. Based on this, you need to know how to avoid getting lost in the outdoors while outing there.

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1. Research the Route in Advance

No matter you’re planning to go hiking, camping, backpacking or climbing things like that, besides packing the essential gear, getting to know the detailed route is also important. Don’t just rely on your tour leader or the activity organizer; remember personal full preparation is crucial, especially when you get lost by yourself, unfortunately. So, before going on your trip, study a map and reference directions from multiple sources to make sure they’re accurate.

2. Bring Your Phone All the Time

This is a society that you can’t go anywhere without your phone, but it is still necessary to remind you to bring your phone with you all the time and keep it fully charged. In most cases, your phone will play the role of the map and GPS tracker, keeping you tracked by companions and staying in touch with others. Certainly, if you’re in a remote area without signal, your phone may become useless.

3. Bring a GPS Tracker

Since outdoor adventure trips like hiking or climbing often involved in some remote areas like forests and mountains, which may results in no signals at all. When your phone becomes useless as a brick, a personal GPS tracker is the best phone alternative to let you know where you are and find your way.

Most GPS trackers are designed portable and handful, and capable of the long battery life ability. Be enabled with real-time monitoring feature so that you can know where you are anytime, beyond that, some even featured with meeting place set, geo-fencing, one-button SOS, etc. If you have no idea how to choose the one fits your needs and budget, you can get some suggestions from this best GPS trackers review. Let a GPS to help you log your route and find your way back

4. Bring a Compass and a Map

Some experienced hikers or climbers recommend that don’t over-rely on a GPS tracker because it may run out of batteries or lose a signal. Actually, with the development of technology, GPS trackers are developed to overcome these downsides like a one called GoFindMe, which supports 72 hours working time on a single charge and even supports work without cell service. But, just as you see, the battery life does run out eventually.

Therefore, the most prudent way to avoid getting lost while hiking or camping is using a compass and a map. Well, looking a map to get as more as info helpful to you is a great deal more involved than what you might have imagined as usual. 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, as well as help you identify the direction and look for the right route forward.

5. Observe the Sun

Everyone knows that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, which makes it a great natural tool to help you navigate. Basically, in spring and fall, the sun rises from the east and sets on the west. When it gets closer to winter and summer solstice, however, the sun can set a little bit differently because it shifts throughout the year.

In summer: the sun rises from the northeast and sets northwest.

In spring and fall: the sun rises from the east and sets on the west

In winter: the sun rises from the southeast and sets southwest.

TIP: In the southern hemisphere, the motion of shadows is reversed. This means that in summer the sun will rise in the southeast and in winter in the northeast, while spring and fall will be the same as the northern hemisphere.

6. Pay Attention to the Surroundings

Anything “unique” or “out of the normal” can be good landmarks in the surroundings giving you clues about direction, like a huge rock or a unique tree. 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 fork of 3 roads.

7. Watch Landmarks

Besides with the aid of GPS or phone to know where you are, another useful approach is watching the obvious landmarks like prominent leaks, rock formations, rivers, and bridges things like that, which may give you a sense of location in the landscape.

8. Definite Spots

When in the dark or in a place similar in topography and ecology, there may no clear or visible landmarks, then you must learn definite a spot. Look for such spots that help you make sure precisely where you are at a given moment: where a trail crosses a river, distinctive turns or switchbacks, a giant rock, a huge valley, etc.

9. Pay Attention to the Time

Pay attention to how long you’ve been hiking (or walking, snowshoeing, etc.). If you know something should be one mile away, you’ll know the average walker will bump into it in about half an hour - if you don’t, then it’s time to stop and assess where you actually are. Or, if you go so fast that your group members haven't caught up with you for more than 10 minutes or even half an hour, it is also the time to stop and wait or go back by the way you came to see if you're on the wrong track.

10. Stay on the Trail and Don’t Leave Your Group

Another important tip on how to not get lost while hiking is by staying on your trail with your companions. If you aren’t well-versed in backcountry navigation, then don’t break from the trail or leave your group. In April this year, a missing hiker named Kat Hammontre and her dog tootsie went disappeared in Mexico after she separated from her group to rest because of her hurting toes, having not been found.

In the case that you do need to step off the trail and temporarily leave your group to go to the bathroom or something, remember to pay attention to the direction. Remember exactly where you leave and where are head in before you venture deeper into other places by yourself.

11. Let Others Know Where You Went

Always let someone (your families or friends) know where and when you’re going and when you will return. This way, someone will be able to tell rescuers where to find you in case you do get lost. Also, leaving a note on the dashboard of your car as an extra safety measure is a great way to tell local people where you went.

The Bottom Line

That’s all about how to avoid getting lost in outdoors for hikers, campers, and backpackers, etc. While, if you do get lost out there, don’t be panic. Just stop moving and calm down, think about where you are, observe the landmarks and looking surroundings for any clues about your direction, and then be cautious to make the decision where to go. But we believe, if you follow the above tips, you won’t get lost on a trail.

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