Even the most experienced hiker can find themselves [HOW TO FIND A LOST HIKER] in a bad situation. One of the worst situations hikers can get into is losing their bearings. I was lost once in the woods while hunting and can tell you from experience how scary it is.

The main thing you want to do as a hiker or outdoors person is to make sure you don’t get lost during a hike. Some of the steps you can take during a hike are to either follow a trail or make one. Most hikers run into trouble when they go off the beaten trail. Trails make it easier to hike and keep you on the right path. When you go off the trail everything starts looking the same and if you haven’t left markers or have a gps you may be getting into trouble.

So, if you have to get off the trail for some reason, make some markers. One tip all outdoors lovers should do is carry a roll of flagging tape. Flagging tape is just a plastic ribbon with a highly visible color. As you walk through the woods just tie a piece of flagging tape every 25’-100’ depending on what you can see. This will make it easier for you to find your path back or help someone find you if needed.

An old-time way to leave a marker is to bend over branches and you walk your path. It takes an experienced person to make a trail like this or follow one. Make the branches obvious and practice this skill before you need to use it.

If you find yourself lost you will have a host of feelings that can make your situation worst. Fear sets in and the brain can shut down. Most of the time people will start moving quicker and get tunnel vision moving them into a wrong direction. Every step in the wrong direction does 2 things and neither is good.

  • You get harder to find every step you take while lost
  • You make it harder for yourself to find the way out and every step is in the wrong direction

Thinking about these 2 points the lost hiker needs to make the most important decision. Do you continue, or do you stay in one spot and wait for rescue? I assure you that this will feel like the most important decision of your life at the time. In fact, it may be the most important decision you ever make.

Choosing to stay in one spot

Choosing to sit and wait is almost always the best option. Hopefully you notified friends and family of your plans and time schedule. If you don’t show up at a certain time they will come looking for you. It might just take someone within ears distance to shout your name to get you on track. That would be the best scenario. If you had kept moving you may be hours or even days from rescue. It could end up a media spectacle at that point. So, sitting and waiting if you are absolutely lost is the best option.

Searching for a way out

If you are in a situation where you have not told anyone your plan or timeline sitting and waiting may not be an option. In this situation, it may take some time for coworkers or family to alert authorities of your disappearance.

A good hiker will research the area and landmarks. If you are new to hiking it’s time to step up your game. Get a topographical map of the area you are going to and burn it into your memory. The map will show you hills, mountains, cliffs, creeks, ponds, rivers, and much more. Once you learn to read them properly you will even love your adventure more. Don’t wait to get lost before you try and figure out how to read the map.

Google maps can also be a great tool. There you might be able to see other landmarks like tree clearings and even types of outcrops. Anything you can see will help you understand the environment. Knowing the area before you get out there will help you make smarter and more educated decisions.

Follow the water

If you find a creek or river follow it out. Most creeks will feed into larger bodies of water. Following one downstream will usually bring you to civilization. Again, if you have studied your route you may even know how far towns are from the body of water.

Follow your compass

Always bring a compass and take a bearing while going into the woods. If you go into the wood in a southern direction just follow the compass in the northern direction. This won’t get you out in the same spot but will get you back to the road eventually.

Using a compass is not that hard but if you never used one it may be useless. Practice this skill or take a boy scout with you! It’s one of the most important skills a boy scout is taught and that is for good reason. Many people are boggled by the idea but it just takes a little practice.


Having a GPS and knowing how to use it makes staying on the trail and getting home easy. I have a GPS and can plot my way in as I go. I find that depending on it can diminish your awareness of nature so don’t depend on it, but rather use it as a tool. Keep a spare set of batteries because you will need it.

Walk the line

Most people walk in circles. Everyone has one leg a bit shorter than the other. This tends to make us turn slowly in length distances. To combat this, try and look as far into the distance and pick a reference point. This could be a mountain, tree, or manmade object. Following the sun or stars won’t work because the earth rotates making them look like they are moving. Experts that know the path of objects in the sky can calculate the right movement but those people would not be lost, to begin with.

Listen to the environment

Listening carefully as you walk can save you. Actively listening can give you clues as to the way out. The sound of a school bus, dog barking, church bell, or any other sounds will lead you to people. Less experienced hikers may just rely on their eyes and this is a mistake. Even the smell of burning wood may lead you to a person’s house in the winter.

Like I said, I have been lost before and I had to tell myself to keep calm and use my wits. Many people will resort to a cave man mentality and just freak out. This is the worst thing to do. Keep calm, use the skills you have, and think before you move. Only move when you are certain it’s the right thing to do.

I hope this is not a situation you will get into but almost every outdoors person will eventually come into this situation. To keep the risk down, stay on the path and know your environment!

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