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How NOT to get lost in the woods: Navigation 5 Top Tips

Posted on Jun 09, 2015 by Alex Kendall

Getting lost in the hills almost has a romantic appeal of carefree wanderlust.

But that romantic appeal can wear off in no time! Wilderness Guide, Alex Kendall shares some advice for best practice for navigation out in the hills.

How NOT to get lost in the woods: Navigation 5 Top Tips

Make sure you’re in the woods in the first place

  • Knowing where you are to start with is pretty important when it comes to working out how to get to where you want to be. If you are confident you know where you are, try and prove it using the features around you and compare them to the map. It’s easy to convince yourself you are where you want to be, as we don’t like to admit to being lost.
  • Remember natural features are more reliable than man-made ones. Hills and rivers are a good place to start. Man-made forest plantations are cut down. I have even found entire forests that aren’t on the map. So it’s wise to use many features to pinpoint your position if possible.
  • Read on – Route notes and maps for 5 of our favourite hikes in the Cairngorms.


How NOT to get lost in the woods- Navigation 5 Top Tips

Walking in the Cuillins, Isle of Skye


Going fast doesn’t help if it’s in the wrong direction

  • Panicking and running off in any direction can be tempting but it’s a surefire way to being completely lost, rather than only mildly confused. Take your time to work it out using the compass. This is especially important if you’re in a wood and can’t see much of the larger scenery.
  • Instead of starting to navigate when it gets tricky, make sure you have the map out early on. Warm up by mentally ticking off easier features as you go.
  • Backtrack to the last known feature if you need to.

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  5. Top 5 Walking Routes in the Cairngorms – Ben Macdui
How NOT to get lost in the woods- Navigation 5 Top Tips

Some paths are better than others. Glen Nevis trail.


Always be sceptical of paths

  • If you’re following a bearing through the woods or across a misty hillside, there is a great urge to follow the first path you come across. This happens whether it goes in the direction you want to be heading or not! Surely it’ll lead somewhere safe? Well, it is possible but not a sure thing.
  • There are plenty of paths made by sheep and deer. These may either take you round in circles, or just disappear in the middle of nowhere. Unless you eat grass and have a body that grows wool over your skin, it is unlikely to be a happy night.

Start somewhere you know

How NOT to get lost in the woods- Navigation 5 Top Tips

Tricky navigation conditions. Cairngorms.

  • If the first time you use a map is up in the clouds on the Cairngorms, you may struggle. The features, scale and symbols will be unfamiliar. It’s wiser to practice at home.
  • Get a map of your local area and take it out when you go for a walk, even one you know well. Get used to how long it takes to move over the map and what the area you know well looks like on paper. This will all help later on.
  • These maps are also great for finding new public rights of way near where you live. Look for the green dashed lines on the 1:25,000 OS maps. It’s your right to follow these routes, so go exploring.
How NOT to get lost in the woods- Navigation 5 Top Tips

Wilderness Guide, Tim Francis.

Get a guide!

Whatever it is you want to do in the outdoors, there will be someone qualified to guide you. They will do a lot more than just teach you to cycle, kayak or camp. They will introduce you to the landscape. They will explain the geology, plant life and local animals. They may even have some tall tales of adventures to regale around the camp fire. This is a great start to helping you find your own adventures.

Want to go on a walking holiday, but don’t feel quite like going alone?  All of our Wilderness Walking trips are led by expert guides, check here to see the full range of our walking and hiking adventure holidays.


About the author

Alex Kendall

Mountain running fanatic, Alex has adventured all over the planet.

Read more articles by Alex | View Alex's Profile

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