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How to Find Your Way in the Wilderness

It’s easy to lose your way in the Canadian wild. Do you know how to find your way in the wilderness? Whether you’ve taken a wrong turn on an adventurous hike or wandered too far from your campsite looking for firewood, here are some survival tips to get you back to where you need to be.

A forest background with text overlay that reads Tips for the Apocalypse: How to find your way in the wilderness.

Photo by Michael Krahn on Unsplash. Text and other elements added by Total Prepare. Click here to pin this article.

How to Prepare Ahead

If there’s a chance you may lose track of your campsite, trail, or your companions, make sure to bring a compass and map with you. However, for the purpose of this article, we’ll assume you are in the wilderness only the clothes on your back.

You’re Lost: Now What?

If you believe you are lost, stop. Don’t panic. Take deep breaths, and don’t go anywhere until you can think clearly. If you run—even for a little bit—you will only disorient yourself further.

How to Mark Your Trail

Create trail markers as you move. You could go Hollywood and use torn scraps of clothing, but scoring trees with a rock (or a knife, if available) is generally a better idea. You’ll really appreciate the extra sweater if you need to camp out overnight.

Leave markings frequently and indicate which direction you are heading. This will help rescuers to find you and make it easier to retrace your steps.

Find Your Way: What’s The Safest Way to Retrace Your Steps?

Once you have marked your starting place (make this one distinct from the other markings), try to retrace your steps. If you know you were only off the trail for 10 minutes, don’t walk for more than 15 minutes in any one direction. If you don’t find the trail in that time, follow your markers back to your starting place and try again in another direction. Keep this up until you find the trail.

What Should You Do Next?

You’ve retraced your steps in every direction with no luck. Now it’s time to strike out on your own, following moss trails and communing with the land to find your way in the wilderness to get home, right? Wrong.

Your mission—should you choose to accept it—is to stay as close to where you originally were as possible. If you have the tools available, build and light a fire—carefully—for warmth and light, then hunker down. In most cases, you are probably not far from where you should be, and someone will find you quickly.

How to Assist Search and Rescue

If you were travelling with a group or if you’ve been missing for a long time, you likely have people looking for you. Use markers to make yourself easy to find. Be sure to make noise. Call for help, whistle, and create markers that can be seen from the air. Unless you need to take shelter from the elements, stay out where search teams can see you. You don’t want them to miss you if they come through the area.

A river and small waterfall in a forest.

Move downhill until you find water, then follow it until you find civilization. Photo by Holly Riley on Unsplash.

Tips and Last Resorts

If you really must strike out on your own, or if no one is likely to report you missing, here are a few things to keep in mind when navigating in the woods:

  • The sun rises in the east and sets in the west. If you know where civilization is relative to your hiking spot of choice, use the sun to head in that direction.
  • Walk downhill until you find water and walk downstream. The going might be tough at times, but you’re more likely to find a community along a waterway or in a valley.
  • Take advantage of any viewpoints and scan for signs of people/civilization. This could be as small as a gap in the treeline that might indicate a road.


If all goes well, hopefully you will never get lost and need to remember how to find your way in the wilderness. Tell someone if you’re leaving for a hike, where you are going, and when you expect to be back. At minimum, bring water or a way to filter water, as well as a compass, map, and knife if you’re able.

Thank you for reading, and happy hiking!

This article was written by Zenia Platten – Author and Emergency Preparedness Professional


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