Getting lost while hiking is a frightening experience, but it can be avoided. The first rule for hikers is to always let someone know where you’re going and about how long you’ll be gone. 

Along with packing all the essentials, make sure your trek is a safe and happy one, which can be achieved by learning these ways to avoid getting lost while hiking.


1. Plan Your Hike First

Before heading out on any hike, even a short one, it’s crucial to plan your trek with a map. You can download maps online for many popular hiking trails. Additionally, you can use an app, like Google Earth, Garmin’s Basecamp, or Caltopo to plan your route. 

Get familiar with the area, figure out your trailhead, and the directions to get there. Knowing the lay of the land will help you be more confident.

2. Try to Stay on the Trail

Taking a detour or going off-trail is usually the main cause of getting lost while hiking. Thus, don’t venture off very far to explore, follow interesting wildlife, or capture a great photo.

One trail is easy to follow, but when you come to forks in the road, make sure to go in the right direction. Going off-trail can also create false trails that may confuse other hikers. 

3. Have a Compass, Map, and GPS

Hikers these days can take advantage of all kinds of technology such as phone apps or a GPS device. However, there’s a downside to technology. 

Batteries can fail to work or they can break when dropped. Let a map and a compass be your backup just in case. In fact, these items should be on every hiker’s essentials list. Thus, keep an inexpensive compass in your backpack.

4. Pay Attention to Surroundings

Even if you’re hiking with a group, pay attention to what’s around you since fellow hikers might not be watching. Take note of that fallen tree or big boulder. This is harder to do if there aren’t many unique features, but try to pick out something as you go along. 

Check your compass regularly to see what direction you’re going. Have a headlamp with you in case it starts to get dark.

5. Watch the Sun and Other Signs

What if you forget a compass or dropped yours somewhere? Since it rises in the east and sets in the west, the sun can help you with general directions. 

If you’re hiking trail is close to the winter solstice, take note that the sun may set to the southwest. Furthermore, if you’re hiking in the Northern part of the world, know that the wind usually blows from the west, except when a storm is approaching.  

6. Estimate Distance

Periodically, use your trail map to try and gauge how far you’ve traveled. Fortunately, some phone apps and GPS devices can do this for you. 

Look for natural markers like streams or mountains. This can help determine if perhaps you unknowingly took a wrong turn.

7.  Use the STOP Method

Suppose you do get off-trail and can’t find the way back to your campsite. Use the STOP method devised by the U.S. Forestry Service. 

STOP and stay calm. Panicking is the worst thing you can do. THINK and try to retrace your steps mentally. OBSERVE your map, compass, or GPS. Finally, make a PLAN to get back on the trail.

8.  Consider Your Options

If you do lose your way, stop and think of all options, including staying put and finding a place to sleep for the night. Consider turning off your phone to save battery life. 

If you aren’t completely confident on a route out, are nearing exhaustion, or nightfall is approaching, it’s best to stay put.

9. Make a Plan of Action

Staying in one place will make it easier for a search party to find you. Thus, plan to shelter for the night. 

If you decide to try and hike out, look for trail markers. If there are none, look for a drainage pipe or downhill stream to follow.

10. Use Rescue Signals

Use the whistle from your hiking essentials or first aid kit to make noise. This will carry further than your voice. You can also use a mirror or shiny aluminum foil as reflectors. Some survivor flashlights have flashers and sirens. 

If all else fails, send smoke signals from a controlled fire.