How Not to Get Lost in the Woods

More than 2000 people get lost in the woods every year. But that is an underestimation. The last time I was lost in the dense forests of The Aberdare Ranges, no one even knew about it.

Most cases go unreported, probably because they are minor or we are not courageous enough to expose ourselves. What can you do to avoid getting lost in the woods?

To avoid getting lost in the woods, hire a guide, learn how to use navigation tools, or ensure you understand the trail before setting out. Apart from that, you should give details of your journey to someone, mark your route, and stick to your plan.

Let’s explore each tip in detail for an easy time in the woods.

7 Tips to Avoid Getting Lost in the Woods

As the adage goes, prevention is better than cure. The emotional torture of knowing you are lost can take a toll on you. But not when you have these tips!

Tips to Avoid Getting Lost in the Woods

1. Hire a Guide

The safest bet is to hire a guide who knows the terrain. A guide has all the tools you need to get back on track if lost. Apart from that, they have mastered every part of the terrain and know the risky areas.

Besides guiding you, a guide will help you experience the full thrill of the trail. Whether it is showing you some hidden gems in the woods or suggesting an alternative to the common routes – a guide can be helpful in more ways than one.

If you are hiking with your kids, they might need motivation. A guide will keep your children hooked and excited about their next step.

Another aspect that a guide adds to your hike is the local flair to your walk in the woods. They can share myths, facts, and happenings that nature may not reveal to a lone hiker.

2. Know How to Use Your Navigation Tools

Before we get into using the tools, which are some of the must-have navigation tools?

  • Map and Compass
  • GPS Device
  • Personal Locator Beacon (PLB)
  • Smartphone Apps

A map and a compass are essential tools for any trip into the wild. Therefore, you should learn to use them before it is a matter of life and death. You should carry a physical map of where you plan to trek or hike. Knowing where you are on the map and how to navigate from that position is the first step to avoiding getting lost in the woods.

You have heard about finding your true north. There is a literal meaning to that, and that is where the compass comes in. The device helps you know the direction of your movement on the map. With that, you can locate paths, streams, camping sites, or your way out of the woods.

Personal locator beacons send signals to emergency satellites near your location. The tools have a long-lasting battery that makes it possible for you to use them in case of an emergency. Besides, a PLB works even in remote areas where a smartphone might not be helpful.

There is a reason this is the last option on our list. Although smartphone apps can come in handy to help you track your path, they have limitations. First, the chances of the phone going off when using the tools is high. Secondly, most navigation apps rely on the internet, which is a challenge in most uninhabited areas.

3. Understand the Trail Before Setting Out

“If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there,” said Lewis Carroll. Understanding your destination is an essential part of any outdoor activity. You will most likely get lost if you don’t know where you are going and the paths that lead there.

Note down essential information about the area, including your departure and arrival points. You should also mark any side trails or detours that you might need to take. Familiarizing with the route gives an idea of where you should be at certain times.

4. Share Your Trip Details

When setting out, it is advisable to leave a note with important information to at least one person. You should include the following information in the note:

  • Your destination
  • The trail you will use
  • Number of hours or days you will spend
  • Activities you will engage in, like hunting or hiking
  • Provisions you are carrying
  • The attires you are wearing
  • Hiking boot footprints (you can step on a pain paper)

The information can facilitate an easier search if lost in the woods. Apart from sharing these details with a loved one, you should also leave them at the reception. You should add the contact information of a close friend or family member.

5. Timing Your Exploration

The ideal time to visit the woods is early in the morning—you can still see and make out items from a distance. The hours after sunrise are suitable for any outdoor activity, including hiking and camping.

Hiking at night or in dark areas should be avoided because of the risks that come with it, such as wild animals, lack of good visibility, and loss of trails. You should carry flashlights and flares to light your path in case you are caught up in dark places.

The risk of injury when the visibility is compromised is high. Besides, hiking or trekking when the sun is hot can cause dehydration or sickness, impacting mobility.

The rainy season is also another predisposing factor to getting lost in the woods. Rainwater not only poses the risk of drowning but can also erase landmarks or make paths impassible.

6. Stick to Your Plan

The desire to explore is almost insatiable in all of us. But there is an excess to anything. You should avoid extreme detours or trails that you have not planned for. It is essential to remember the direction of the path and landmarks.

You should strictly stick to your plan, even if it means walking back and forth a few hundred meters. Take pauses on hills, outcrops, and other strategic points to get a good view of the area.

This discipline helps you avoid getting lost; if it happens, searchers will easily locate you. You also avoid getting unnecessarily tired because of long routes.

7. Mark Your Trail

Keeping a close eye on important landmarks on your journey can be life-saving. Whether through memory or taking some photos, you will never go wrong with this hack.

Leaving a trail of markers is also essential. You can use signs such as piles of stones, flagging tape, or cairns to mark the trails. This ensures you can find your way back in case you are lost and no one else can help you.

Most hiking and trekking areas have trail markers, making them easy to navigate. Identifying these beacons can help you avoid losing your track in the woods. You can realize you are off-track if you go without seeing any markers in a marked path.

What to Do If You Are Lost in the Woods

Not the experience anyone would like to imagine. But what if you got lost in the woods? Here are some survival tips to help you find your way back or alert rescuers.

What to Do If You Are Lost in the Woods

1. Don’t Panic

The Forest Service proposes a strategy known as STOP if lost in the woods. Here is what the acronym stands for:

  • Stop
  • Think
  • Observe
  • Plan

You should stop when you realize you can’t track your way. Most times, the temptation is to try and move fast, trying to find a path. But that tactic can worsen the situation because there is no time to process our location.

The next step is to think. Taking a few deep breaths can help you relax and stay focused. After that, think about how you got to the current location, which are some landmarks near the place, and how you can get there.

When it comes to observing, you should use your navigation tools. Take out your map and compass and try to determine your location. If this tactic doesn’t work, you can identify marked trails, if there are any.

The last step is to plan how you will get back on track. You should come up with different viable plans depending on the situation. For example, if it is already late, you should stay in a safe place until it is dawn.

2. Inform Someone

If your phone is still on and there is a good connection, you can inform the management of the place or a friend. You should also provide any useful information to help locate you, like the last landscape you can remember

Alerting someone will assure you that you are not alone in the situation and someone is looking for you. This can reduce anxiety and help you cope with the situation.

3. Start with Somewhere Familiar (Backtracking)

Can you go back to a familiar trail or location? If this is possible, it can be the first step in the right direction. You will likely track your way back if you can remember a landmark and backtrack to that location.

As mentioned previously, you should use markers to identify the trail. They can be a lifesaver in times of desperation. If the beacons are vandalized, you can make minor marks on easily visible places like huge trees and rocks.

4. Use Nature

Nature has a way of giving us signals. There are several natural cues that can help you out in the situation. For example, water usually leads to a settlement if you follow it downhill. However, this can be a dangerous tactic because such trails tend to have thicker vegetation.

If it is nighttime and the sky is clear, directions can be derived from stars or constellations. You should also pay attention to moss growing on trees and rocks since they usually grow thicker on the north-facing side.

The direction of the sun affects different organisms in the woods. Ants tend to build their anthills facing south because that is where they get more sunlight. Tree branches are also likely to be denser on the side facing the sun (south).

Although you can use nature to read directions, there are exceptions. For example, fertility can affect vegetation growth.

5. Blow Your Whistle

Survival whistles are easy to use and portable. You can blow them in the air to alert rescuers. It is a better tactic than shouting because it will send clear signals from further distances, unlike human voices. The universal emergency signal tends to be three whistle blasts.

Before blowing the whistle, you should assess the security of your location, especially from wildlife attacks. Make sure you are in a safe place before blowing the whistle. If there is a way to access a high ground, it will be the perfect location to blow your whistle.


  • To avoid getting lost in the woods, hire a guide and understand the trail before setting out.
  • If you get lost in the woods, don’t panic and inform someone immediately.
  • Make use of your navigation tools and nature cues to orient yourself. Also, try backtracking to somewhere familiar.
  • Blowing your whistle is an effective way to alert rescuers from far away. Assess the safety of your location before blowing the whistle to avoid wildlife attacks.
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