Hiking Into Unfamiliar Terrain: The Best Way to Keep Your Bearings

Yup, affiliate links may be sprinkled throughout the awesome article. We'll receive a commission when you purchase items from those links (they won't cost you anything extra). All the details are here in affiliate disclosure.

Hikers often find themselves in unfamiliar territory, pushing their boundaries and seeking new adventures.

But with unfamiliarity comes risk, and one of the biggest dangers when hiking in unfamiliar terrain is getting lost. This can be a terrifying experience, especially if you're not prepared.

So how can you prevent getting lost when hiking in unfamiliar terrain?

The best way to keep your bearings while hiking in unfamiliar terrain is to use a map and compass. A good rule of thumb is always to have a map and compass when hiking, even if you think you know the area well.

If you don't have a map and compass, there are still some things you can do to orient yourself and find your way back to safety.

Here are some tips for keeping your bearings while hiking:

{tocify} $title={Table of Contents}

Hiking Into Unfamiliar Terrain: Tips on Keeping Your Bearings

1. Know your route

When hiking on a new trail, it is important to know where you are going. You can do this by looking at a map of the area before starting.

If you see any landmarks that you will pass on your hike, remember them and use them to help you stay on track.

If you have a GPS device with you, mark your starting point and track your progress as you go. If you do get lost, you will have a general idea of where you are and how to get back to your starting point.

2. Tell someone where you're going

Before you start your hike, it is good to tell someone where you are going and when you expect to be back. This way, if you do get lost, someone will know where to start looking for you.

It is also good to leave a note in your car with your planned route and expected return time. If you don't return when you're supposed to, someone will know where to find you.

3. Stick to well-marked trails

This may seem obvious, but it's important to remember, especially when you're hiking in unfamiliar territory.

When the trail is well-marked, there is less chance of getting lost. If you happen to get off the beaten path, backtrack to the last marker you saw.

If you do come to a fork in the trail, take a look at the map and decide which way you think is the correct way to go. If you're still unsure, it's better to err on the side of caution and turn back than risk getting lost.

4. Carry a map and compass

As mentioned before, the best way to stay oriented while hiking is to carry a map and compass with you. If you don't have a GPS device, these two tools will help you keep your bearings.

hiking topographic map with compass and gps device

A paper map is always best, as you can see the big picture and get a sense of where you are in relation to your surroundings. A compass will come in handy if you need to find your way back to the trailhead or a specific landmark.

Google Maps is also a great app to use while hiking, especially if you have cell service. You can download topographic maps of the area before you go and use the GPS tracking feature to see where you are in relation to the trails. This can be a lifesaver if you get lost, as you can backtrack your steps and find your way back to the trail.

5. Make sure you know how to use your map and compass

Before heading out on your hike, make sure you know how to read a map and use a compass. This seems like a no-brainer, but it's important to understand how these tools work before you need to use them.

If you're unsure, there are many resources available to help you learn these skills, including books, websites, and classes offered by outdoor organizations.

6. Don't rely on technology

While technology can help keep your bearings while hiking, it's important not to rely on it too much. Batteries die, cell service is spotty in many areas, and mountains can block GPS signals.

So, while it's a good idea to have a GPS device or smartphone with you, it's always best to have a backup plan if your electronic devices fail you. That's where a paper map and compass come in handy.

7. Keep an eye on the sun

The sun is your best friend when orienting yourself while hiking. If you pay attention to where the sun is in the sky, you can always tell which way is north.

This is especially helpful in the morning and evening when the sun is lower in the sky.

During the day, if you're not sure which way you're supposed to be going, stop and look around. The sun should be directly overhead if you're facing north. If it's not, adjust your course accordingly.

At night, the stars can also be used to orient yourself. The North Star is the brightest in the constellation Ursa Minor, and it can be used to find the north.

8. Keep an eye on your shadow

Your shadow can also be used to help you keep your bearings while hiking.

During the day, if you're not sure which way you're supposed to be going, stop and look at your shadow.You're on the right track if it's pointing in the direction you want to go. If not, adjust your course accordingly.

At night, you can use the moon to help you orient yourself. The moon will always rise in the east and set in the west. So, if you're not sure which way you're supposed to be going, find the moon and use it as a guide.

9. Pay attention to your surroundings

One of the best ways to orient yourself while hiking is to pay attention to your surroundings. This includes things like landmarks, trail markers, and the lay of the land.

If you can see a landmark in the distance, it can be used as a reference point to help you keep your bearings. Trail markers are also helpful in keeping you on the right track. And, if you take a moment to orient yourself with the lay of the land, it will be easier to find your way back if you get lost.

10. Check the weather forecast

The weather can also impact your ability to orient yourself while hiking. If it's going to be a clear day, you'll have an easier time using the sun and stars to orient yourself. However, if it's going to be cloudy or foggy, you'll have a more difficult time.

In this case, it's even more important to pay attention to your surroundings and make sure you have a backup plan if you can't see the sun or stars.

You can check the weather forecast before your hike to get an idea of the conditions.

11. Wear the proper clothing and footwear

While hiking in unfamiliar terrain, it's important to wear the proper clothing and footwear. This includes clothes that keep you warm when there is snow or rain and traction on your shoes, so they don't slip off of them during a stormy day hike!

It will also help if those going out have brightly colored vests since this makes them an easier spot for others who may get lost along with themselves.

12. Bring a flashlight

Another thing to consider bringing when hiking into unfamiliar terrain is a flashlight. This is especially important if you plan on doing any night hiking. A flashlight will help you see where you are going and signal for help if needed.

13. Bring a whistle or other signaling device

Signaling for help is an important part of being prepared when hiking. A whistle can be heard much farther than your voice, so it's a good way to get someone else into position if you find yourself in trouble!

14. Pack extra food and water

Hiking into the unknown is an exciting but risky adventure. It's always a good idea to pack extra food and water. This is especially important if you're hiking in a remote area where help may not be readily available.

Extra food and water will help you stay hydrated and fueled during your hike, and it can also be used to help attract attention if you get lost.

15. Be prepared for emergencies

When hiking into unfamiliar territory, it's important to be prepared for emergencies and know what you need.

Consider packing a first-aid kit with bandages or soothing gel; consider bringing fire starters in case there are no trees around where your camping site is located (or if they were knocked down by recent storms).

Plan on building an emergency shelter before setting out so that when things do go wrong - whether due to time constraints which make finding somewhere safe difficult enough as it is without adding weather complications too! - you will have a place to go that can protect you from the elements.

16. Go with a hiking buddy

Hiking with a friend is also one of the best ways to stay safe while hiking. If one person gets lost, they can rely on their partner for help finding themselves back home again!

Furthermore, you'll save resources like food and water by going together. Hence, no matter what happens in an emergency, both of your kits have everything needed, which means less carrying around unnecessary weight or having extra things taken from underneath its cover when disaster strikes (eep!).

And if someone does suffer some form of injury, then there's another human being who knows how important it is to treat the wound and can go for help, leaving the injured person in a safe spot.

What to do if you get lost while hiking?

Suppose you find yourself in a situation where you are lost while hiking; don't panic. The first thing you should do is stay where you are. If you keep moving, you will make it harder for someone to find you.

Then, use your whistle or other signaling devices to attract attention. If there is no one around to hear you, you can start hiking in a direction that you think will lead you back to the trailhead.

If you are still lost after trying these things, it is time to set up camp and build an emergency shelter. You should also try to signal for help using a fire or mirror.

Stay calm and follow these steps, and you will be sure to find your way back home safely!


Hiking is an incredible way to explore new areas and see things that you may never get a chance to experience otherwise.

However, as with anything in life, some important precautions should always be taken before taking your next adventure into unfamiliar terrain!

By keeping these safety tips in mind, you can rest assured knowing that you are as prepared as possible and enjoy your hike without worry. So get out there and explore!

FAQs on Hiking Into Unfamiliar Terrain:

Is it safe to hike into unfamiliar territory?

Yes, it's safe to hike into unfamiliar territory if you're adequately prepared. Exploration and discovery are important parts of the hiking experience. By doing your research ahead of time and packing the appropriate gear, you can minimize the risks of hiking in a new area.

What are the dangers of keeping your bearings while hiking?

There are several dangers associated with keeping your bearings while hiking. If you're not familiar with the area, you could easily become disoriented and lost. Additionally, if you're not paying attention to your surroundings, you could miss important landmarks that could help you find your way back.

Do I need to pack everything out?

No, you don't need to pack everything out with you. However, it's always good to bring along the essentials like a map, compass, and first-aid kit. Additionally, if you're hiking in an area with no cell service, it's good to bring along a satellite phone or two-way radio.

What if I can't find my way back?

If you find yourself lost, the best thing is to stay calm and start backtracking your steps. If you have a map and compass, you can use them to orient yourself and help you find your way back. Additionally, if you have a satellite phone or two-way radio, you can call for help.

What are some tips for staying safe while hiking?

Some tips for staying safe while hiking include: research the area before you go, tell someone where you're going and when you'll be back, stay on marked trails, carry the appropriate gear, and pay attention to your surroundings. If you find yourself in trouble, don't hesitate to call for help.

What happens if you don't understand the map correctly and get lost?

It's important to always use a map and compass as GPS can fail, especially in forested areas with no satellite reception. Getting lost happens quickly and can lead to panic. If you don't understand the map correctly, you'll have a much harder time finding your way back to civilization.

What is a good rule of thumb when hiking?

When hiking, your first goal should be staying on the trail for as long as possible, then using any old trails that lead back to a well-known trail, and finally staying found. While hiking, a good rule of thumb is to always look behind you every five minutes or so just in case you have missed a landmark that could lead you back to where you started.

Post a Comment

Previous Post Next Post