How To Not Get Lost In The Woods: Navigation 101

Walking in the woods is all fun and games until you lose track of where you’re going. Most hikers get lost because they wander off the trail. Wandering off is okay if you know how to navigate in the forest. But, for those who don’t, sticking to the trail is a much safer option.

The tricky part starts when there’s a fork in the trail and you don’t know which one leads where. That’s why you need to brush up on some survival skills before your excursion into the woods. That way, you lessen the need for a rescue team to come to find you.

Keep reading to learn the basics of navigating in the woods.

The Preparatory Steps

Before you even step foot on the forest floor, you need to ensure that your pack is fully prepped.

The Ten Essentials

This is a collection of tools that will help you prevent and get out of sticky situations:

1. Navigation Tools

You may be confident in your abilities to navigate without a compass and map, but don’t leave this to chance. Navigation tools should be the first thing you pack.

2. Sun Protection

You should never leave behind sunscreen and sunglasses. You can also choose to wear sun-protecting clothes.

3. Lights

A flashlight or a head torch needs to be in your kit. Even if you think you’ll be back home by sundown, it doesn’t hurt to carry a torch.

4. First-Aid Kit

If it’s a one-day trip, you can pick up a basic kit from a drugstore. But, if you’ll be hiking for longer than a day, you may want to customize your kit. Take tools and medicines targeted for hikers.

5. Insulation

It may be extremely hot 30 minutes away from the place you’re hiking, but as your elevation increases, the air gets thinner and you will feel cold. So, if you are hiking up a mountain, remember to take insulated clothing with you. If you’re camping overnight, you may need multiple layers.

6. Water

Foolish is the person who goes into the woods without water. If you know you’ll find a reliable water source, one canister will do, but you’ll still need a water filtration system. It’s always better to have too much water than not enough.

7. Food

Your food does not need to be a substantial meal. You just need something that packs calories and will give you an energy boost. Take easy-to-digest food.

8. Tool Kit

Something like a pocket knife or a multitool is necessary on a hike.

9. Fire Builder

Even if it’s not a full kit, take a box of matches and scraps that can help you build a fire quickly. This can be used to signal for help if you’re lost, or keep you warm.

10. Shelter

Even if you’ve planned for only a day trip, take at least a tarp with you. Unexpected things happen in the woods, and you may be forced to spend a night there.

The 11th Essential

The 11th essential doesn’t get spoken about very often. But, that doesn’t make it any less important. A trip into the woods is never without risk. Not to be pessimistic, but there are endless possibilities for you to get lost or hurt yourself.

Yes, you’ll have a first-aid kit and other tools to help, but what happens if you are badly injured? What happens if you need a search and rescue team to come to save you? These things aren’t cheap, and you may empty your bank account paying for the services.

However, if you have travel medical insurance or travel insurance that can provide coverage for hiking, you can rest easier. In the chance of a catastrophe, travel insurance can be your financial safety net.  

If you haven’t already bought your travel insurance, head to Insubuy before your trip. Insubuy is trusted by thousands of travelers like you to help them find the perfect insurance plan. You can filter and compare plans based on your needs and the activities you’ll engage in.

Once you zero in on a plan, make the purchase on the website with its many secure payment gateways. If you have any doubts about the plan or its coverage, Insubuy experts are there to answer your questions.

Make a Trip Plan

Loved ones like to keep tabs on each other. If you’re going to a place without cell service, like the middle of the woods, people tend to worry. That’s why you need a trip plan.

This document should state where you intend to be at which time. This will make it easier for rescuers to track you down if necessary.  

Learn How to Use Lifesaving Tools

You should not enter the forest without knowing how to navigate with a compass and map.

Using a Compass

Reading a compass is not as easy as you may think. Yes, the compass does always point north. But, did you know there is a difference between true north and magnetic north? There are markings and different parts to a compass that may confuse a novice.

Before you venture into the woods, practice using your compass in a park or open field. Consult YouTube tutorial videos if you have any questions. When in doubt, always trust your compass.

Reading a Map

Maps are also essential for your trip. Get a map that shows topographical information. This way, you won’t be stuck at a cliff with an hour-long detour on your hike. Make sure you have a paper map and a pencil to mark off your progress.

The map needs to be studied and memorized before you set forth. Memorizing landscapes is a foolproof way of mastering navigation.

You can also use rock formations and other landmarks to get a bearing of where you are. As you’re walking, remember to look at formations from the other side. This is what you’ll see on your way back. Seeing it beforehand will prevent confusion.

Always keep your map out and follow it as you walk. This is the best way to ensure that you don’t get lost.

Using Nature to Navigate

Natural navigation is a technique used by expert hikers to find their way around the woods. Traditionally, natural navigation techniques eliminate the use of tools like maps or compasses. But, when used in supplement with these tools, even a beginner will be able to navigate in the forest easily.

Picking up on nature’s cues is the main requirement to succeed in natural navigation. You need to be able to decipher the sun’s movement, the stars, animals, and water’s flow. It takes time to master the skill, and many never do.

As a first step, research the terrain you will be on. You can find star charts online which will tell you what the stars look like from specific coordinates. Take a look at them, and identify prominent constellations. If there’s a creek or river in the woods, look up which direction it flows. This will help you tell the direction you’re going in the woods.

Panicking Is Not the Answer

A feeling of dread may set in when you realize you’re lost. But, this is not the moment to panic. Panicking is counterproductive.

Once you start getting nervous, you may be tempted to start moving faster without getting a bearing of where you are. This can take you further away from your starting point.

What to Do If You Do Get Lost

If you’re in unfamiliar territory, the first thing you should do is stop. Check your map and compass and try to figure out where you are. Do not even take a step until you’ve figured out where you are. Sometimes, you may be on the right track and not realize it.

Next, try to get to a place with high elevation. This will let you see more of your surroundings. Pick a climbable rock or tree to look around. But be careful, the last thing you want is to fall and break a limb.

Gather as much information as you can about your whereabouts. After that, make a plan on what your next move is. If you have your 10 essentials and you’ve made a trip plan, you should be able to find your way back to safety. If not, you’ll have already taken the steps to help first responders find you.

Try to get to a clear field and send up flares. This will help rescuers to locate you.

Getting lost in the woods is unnerving, especially if you’re alone. But, if you follow these steps, you can likely get back on the trail in no time.

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