How Not to Get Lost while Hiking or Camping

Carefree Wanderer? Not so good with staying with the group and just want to keep on exploring solo?

If you are reading this article, o lost wanderer, it means that either you have lost your way and have mysteriously found cell coverage (or a nearby tree might be emitting strong WiFi signals) and reading this article is probably your only hope of reaching back home safely. Worry not, we shall help you in finding the right path and guiding you back to your cozy crib safely. Carefree Wanderlust has got the better of you this time, so here are some ways how you can return back safely and sound to your friends and family.

How Not to Get Lost while Hiking or Camping

Being lost can give one a frenzied attack and one should always remain calm and composed. I remember freaking out when I used to get lost at a hypermarket when I was very young and you have that adrenaline rushing throughout your blood, trying to search and locate your parents or in your case the correct trail and finding your way back home.

In such a situation, strong emotions such as fear or anger cause adrenaline to be released into the bloodstream, which causes an increase in heart rate and blood pressure among other things and this adrenaline needs to be channeled properly.

So let’s get started away pronto, as you don’t have much time and you need to get back home ASAP.

There are many techniques in order to help deal with stress and I am going to list a unique adaption of a strategy which includes combining all the different variations of the same acronym i.e “STOP” employed during different situations. This will allow you to compose yourself and you will stay in control, and remain calm and focused.


Stop what you’re doing; stay calm, panic is not your best friend but it is your worst enemy especially in such situations and you do not want the adrenaline to cause you to hurry and run in any direction, as this may cause more fear and add to your anxiety and plus you might encounter some dangerous trees and plantations which are covered in one of our other articles Don’t Even Come Close To These 6 Plants While Camping Or Hiking.

Take a few deep breaths. Speak to yourself “breathe in, breathe out”. The best advice that you can get from anyone at that moment is from yourself. Try to avoid any thoughts that pop in your head in relation to fear, loneliness, hunger, or even death.

Observe your surroundings, try identifying them and begin exploring your mind palace. Where were you before you ended up in this position or spot. Do you remember taking any turns or do you see any familiar paths that you had seen just before you got lost?

Try to clear your brain and think deeply about how you ended up in the very spot and every small detail can help you if you remain calm. Observe any clues that can help you return to your original path or trail. Don’t just decide to walk along any beaten path as it might have been used by fauna or wild animals and could just cause you to continue going in circles, arriving nowhere.

Proceed, once you come up with something reliable, something that your gut has faith in or your conscience directs you to. Decide which direction to proceed but do so with caution. Mark your way going forward with rocks or sticks and create a trail as you go ahead, allowing you to retrace your steps and it is always a good idea to wait when part of a group as they might realize sooner or later that a team member is missing (unless they don’t care for you).

Sound and Sight – Your Trusty Senses

Remember, what you learned in elementary, that the human body is blessed with 5 senses? Well, today you get to fully experience, use and rely on two of them.

a. Take a good look around from what you have identified above. Get to a higher ground if possible and try to identify any nearby civilians, cabin or a water source. These will probably direct you in the way of any human presence and help may not be as far away as you might have thought. Traveling downhill might be an option you might want to consider as civilization tends to flourish in valleys and near water.

b. Try to sit, clear your mind and listen carefully what all sounds you hear. Boots trampling nearby if you left a trail or a group or got separated unexpectedly might help you return back to them. Any sounds of water flowing or pouring downstream might direct you towards human presence.

Now that you’re lost, where to begin?


1. Stay Put

As mentioned above, this technique always works when with a group. If you lose the trail of your fellow mates and want to find your own way out, stay where you are. The more you move, the more challenging it becomes for someone from your group to locate you.

If heading out alone, before you leave, tell someone exactly where you are going and how long you plan on being there. This way they have an idea of where they can search for you and if you do not return at a specific time, people will grow alarmed and begin a search.

2. In the Nick of Time

If you are wearing an analog watch on you, it can assist you in finding directions. First, point the hour hand at the sun, then draw a line on the ground between it and the number 12 on the watch face. If it is 6:00, for example, the line will go through the number 3 and that line will point to the south.

In case you didn’t wear your watch, there is another way to determine directions as well. Hike to an open area that’s relatively flat and gets as much sun as possible, and drive straight stick (length: 2-3 feet) into the ground. The direction in which the shadow end is cast by the stick will be East. Mark it with a rock or another stick. After a while, mark the new end of the shadow, that would be West. In other words, the line going between those two points should run from east-west as the sun sets.

Now that you have found West, you can find any other direction, in case you were not focusing on your geography class.

Once, you have found West, stand in a stationary position facing West, then East would be behind you, and north would be on your right, and south would be to your left.

3. Get Prepared

In case you have tried both techniques above and still no success comes your way, it is time to get prepared. If you are lost, try to identify the nearest water stream and make a camp nearby. It is important to stay hydrated at all times and one should get building a shelter immediately and not wait until you are exhausted. Try to set up the shelter before the sun goes down, as temperatures can drop once the sun sets, even in summer months and you may be susceptible to hypothermia; a state where one’s body loses heat faster than it can produce, causing a dangerously low body temperature. Normal body temperature is around 98.6 F (37 C) and hypothermia will occur as your body temperature falls below 95 F (35 C).

 Conclusion / Practical Tips

Now that you have read what to do in case you get lost while hiking or camping, consider the following advice below that can help guarantee your safe return.

  1. If heading out alone, get a map of the area where you intend to hike or camp and study it well. Study the area well and try photographing it in your mind or use the ‘mind palace’ technique and identify key landmarks and replace them with objects you can reference to, in the event of getting lost. This will all help you later on in case you get lost.

2. In advance of a trip, one should also consider getting an emergency analog watch while heading out as it is helpful in case you get lost and can be used as explained above.

3. Consider getting a simple compass, that can help you in finding your direction.

4. If you are tech-savvy, consider getting one of Garmin’s handheld GPS devices. Consider getting a one with long battery life, if you intend to hike a lot as technology might fail at any time leaving you to traditional methods to find your way.



We hope you’ve enjoyed reading How Not to Get Lost while Hiking or Camping  and this should give you some great tips on how to get you to get organized and find your way back, let us know your thoughts in the comments below, whether you ever got lost on a hike or a camping trip or any adventure and how you managed to get back safely!

Also, do check out our other great articles and guides. Be sure to signup for our newsletter to get future updates on great guides, and other outdoor inspirations and gear from Settle Outdoor.

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  1. says

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