What To Do If You Get Lost Hiking

The most important thing to consider before you set off on your journey is the possibility of getting lost and what you should do if this happens. Getting lost while hiking, especially when you are exploring somewhere new you are not familiar with, can be very serious and even fatal if you don’t manage the situation correctly. Follow our steps below to make sure you will know what to do if this happens to you.

Before you go

  • Plan your journey. Where are you going to go? How long will this take? Make sure you are familiar with your map and you have a compass that you know how to use. Don’t just study your route- have a look at the surrounding area so you will know which direction is best to head in if you get lost.
  • Tell a friend where you are going and what time you expect to be back. If you are not back at this time or shortly afterwards, they will know to raise the alarm. It is also a good idea to leave a copy of your planned route with your friend so that mountain rescue will know where to start looking for you.
  • Make sure you have a fully charged mobile phone with you. Up in the mountains, it is likely you will have no network reception but keep it with you anyway and keep it turned off to conserve the battery. If you follow our steps below, you might be able to make your way to somewhere that does have reception.

During your hike

Remember prevention is better than cure! There are a few things you can do on your way to make sure you don’t get lost in the first place.

  • Leave markers. You can create markers from sticks and stones in the shape of an arrow etc. This way you can just go back the way you came if you are unsure of your forward route.
  • Observe your surroundings as you go. Are there any natural sounds that stand out along the way like a noisy fast-flowing river? Maybe there is a funny shaped tree or other distinctive natural feature you can keep in mind.
  • Take pictures. If you have a camera, you can easily just look back and take a picture of the way you came. You can also include your hand pointing in the right direction in the photo.

So you forgot to leave markers and now you’re lost. What next?

  • Stop and assess the situation. Get your map and compass out and look around for any big landmarks or anything that will help you find your bearings.
  • Stay calm and maintain a positive mental attitude. This is the most important thing to remember. If you panic, you won’t be able to think straight. If you can't think straight, you won't be able to help yourself.
  • Orient yourself. If you have no map or compass (or are so far gone that you can’t possibly figure out how to use it effectively), you can still get a general idea of your location by looking at the position of the sun. Remember that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. Remember studying the surrounding area on the map before you left? This is how you can determine where to go next.
  • If you still can't find the trail, look around for a nearby river or stream. Follow it downstream. This will eventually lead you to civilization.
  • If nightfall approaches and you don't know where you are, it is usually wiser to stay put and try to find your way home in the daylight. By this stage there will probably be someone looking for you anyway. Look for shelter somewhere that will keep you dry and reasonably warm. Leave something out that will attract attention if someone is looking for you like a brightly coloured bandana or scarf.
  • If you have a whistle, blow it. The sound may attract help. The sound from a whistle travels much farther and is more easily located than the sound of a shout.