Hiking is a glorious activity that can bring so much joy. A quick way to halt the glorious joy, you might be feeling, is by getting lost. Understanding your chosen route and the type of trail you will be hiking on will be beneficial in helping you not get lost. Are you hiking a loop or an out-and-back? Is the trail well worn and continuously visible? Are you hiking in terrain that has been relatively untouched? The following are a few tips you can use to avoid ending up not knowing where you are.
Familiarize yourself with the hike you have chosen before you leave. Using a local guide book or trail map to learn details of your route will be useful. There are also many trail apps out there that you can download that will provide a description of the trail and your route. Depending on the device you might own, using it as navigation in the back country may not be possible depending on reception it might receive. Having a back-up plan like a paper trail map or detailed route description can help you keep on track.
With hiking becoming a more popular activity and trails in almost every locale, the trail you will be hiking may very well be worn and easy to follow. If this is the case it is virtually impossible to get lost. If your route is an out-and-back, all you need to do is hike as far as you want, turn around and retrace your steps back to the trailhead. If the route is a loop, follow the trail from beginning to end. If for some reason you need to leave the trail make sure you know exactly where you are going or mark your way back. Otherwise, follow the well worn trail; let it be your guide.
If the route you are going to take isn’t worn or it intersects with other trails then knowing how to use some trail tools will be helpful. The ability to read blazes and cairns is a tool you should have in your kit. Blazes and cairns are two specific types of trail markers that indicate which direction you need to go, to follow your intended route. Blazes are often painted on or cut into trees and understanding the meanings of the symbols will help give you direction. Cairns are built piles of rocks that indicate the correct way to proceed on a trail. If you look into the distance, assuming you are in an open and clear area, you will be able to see the cairns and have a general idea of the direction you need to go. Make sure you keep looking ahead to maintain your general direction and the location of the next cairn. Following these trail markers will keep you going toward your intended destination and help you from getting lost.
While many trails in high use areas are well worn and easy to follow, sometimes the terrain you choose may not be so well defined. If you are hiking on terrain that is rarely traveled you may need a map and compass or a high quality GPS unit to help you navigate to your intended destination. If a cross country hike is what you plan on doing then having a good understanding of how to use the tools, in this case, a map and compass or GPS unit, are imperative. Anl orienteering class will help you familiarize with how to use the map and compass. Having a GPS unit to help you navigate where you want to travel can be very useful, and you can follow the route by reading the device. Something to think about: What happens if your GPS unit runs out of batteries? You better have a map and compass, as a backup, to help you get to where you are going.
Taking the time to familiarize yourself with the route and understanding how to use some navigation tools will go a long way in keeping you from getting lost.