How Do I Not Get Lost Trail Running? | Hikers University

Getting lost on the trails is one of the biggest fears of trail runners. Therefore, the mind of trail runners often wonder, how do I not get lost trail running?

Have you ever heard stories of people getting lost on the trails? Does the thought of it happening to you make you shake with fear? If so, there are things you should do to make sure you do not join the league of the unfortunate. 

Knowing your surroundings, planning your path before you set out, staying oriented and paying attention to the sun, bringing a compass and a map with you, and letting someone know where you are going and when you will return are some of the things that can help you avoid getting lost. 

It is always better to be safe than sorry. But still, if you ever happen to get lost, you should know what to do to improve your chances of getting found. 

I read the guidelines and precautions of trail running drafted by concerned authorities before writing this piece. All the tips mentioned here are aligned with those guidelines and have come from experienced trail runners. 

Table of contents


How to Avoid Getting Lost on the Trails

1. One of the best ways to avoid getting lost on the trails is to get to know your surroundings before you set out simply. Familiarize yourself with the area by studying maps and doing some research on popular hiking trails. This way, you'll have a general idea of where you're going and what to expect. 

When you're actually out on the trails, pay attention to your surroundings and take note of any landmarks that could help you orient yourself if you get turned around. And if you do start to feel lost, don't panic! Stay calm and think through your options before making any decisions. Remember, it's always better to err on the side of caution when you're in unfamiliar territory. 

2. When you're out on the trails, it's important to stay oriented by paying attention to the sun. If you know which direction is east, you can use the sun to help you stay on track. Keep in mind that the sun moves across the sky throughout the day, so you'll need to adjust your course accordingly. 

3. When venturing out onto trails, it's important to bring a map and compass (and know how to use them!). This will help ensure you don't get lost, as well as help you find your way back if you do get lost. 

If you're not familiar with using a map and compass, there are plenty of resources available to help you learn. Once you know how to use them, they can be invaluable tools for avoiding getting lost on the trails.  

4. If you're planning on spending time in the great outdoors, it's always a good idea to let someone else know where you're going and when you expect to return. This way, if you are not back when you should be, they can alert the concerned authorities and initiate a search. 

There are many ways to make sure someone knows your whereabouts when hiking or camping. You can leave a note with your planned route and expected return date. If you have a cellphone with you, make sure to keep it charged and with you at all times so you can call for help if needed. And consider investing in a personal locator beacon (PLB) which can send out a distress signal if activated.  

5. When you're planning a hike, it's important to be aware of the weather forecast and dress appropriately. Bad weather can make it easy to lose your way, so being prepared for whatever Mother Nature has in store is essential. 

If the forecast calls for rain, be sure to wear waterproof clothing and footwear. This will help keep you dry and comfortable and will also make it easier to spot puddles or other potential hazards. If the weather is very cold, layered clothing will help you stay warm while still allowing you to regulate your body temperature as needed. And if there's a chance of thunderstorms, avoid hiking in exposed areas - seek shelter in woods or other areas where trees can provide protection from lightning. 

6. It's much harder to get lost if you stick to established paths. When hiking in unfamiliar territory, always be sure to follow marked trails. This will help ensure that you stay on course and don't stray off into uncharted areas. 

If you do find yourself veering off the beaten path, take a moment to orient yourself and try to retrace your steps back to the last known marker. If all else fails, remember that it's always best to stay put and wait for help rather than trying to forge ahead on your own. By remaining calm and taking stock of your surroundings, you'll increase your chances of being found safe and sound.  

7. If you do stray from the trail, take note of significant landmarks to avoid getting lost. This could be anything from a large rock formation to a distinctive tree. By doing this, you'll be able to backtrack and find your way back to the safety of the trail.

8. There's nothing worse than getting lost when you're out on a hike or trail. But don't panic! If you keep a cool head and think logically, you'll be able to find your way back. 

First, stop and assess the situation. Take a look around and try to orient yourself. If you can't figure out where you are, don't worry - just focus on figuring out which way is back (the way you came). 

Once you've got a general sense of which direction to go in, start walking. Pay attention to any landmarks you pass so you can retrace your steps if necessary. And if all else fails, backtrack! You may not be able to find your way immediately, but eventually, you'll stumble upon a familiar path or sign.  

9. One way to avoid getting lost on the trails is to carry a whistle or other signaling device. This could come in handy if you need to flag down a search party. By having a whistle, you can avoid getting lost and ensure that you are able to find your way back home safely. 

10. And finally, always err on the side of caution. If you're not sure whether you're headed in the right direction, turn back and retrace your steps. It's better to be safe than sorry!

8 Things To Do If You Get Lost While Trail Running

If you find yourself lost while trail running, don't panic. There are a few things you can do to increase your chances of being found. 

Stay On The Trail

It is important to stay on the trail when you are trail running. If you leave the trail, it will be much harder for searchers to find you. 

When you are out on a run, it is important to pay attention to your surroundings and be aware of where the trail goes. If you get lost, staying on the trail will give searchers a better chance of finding you. If you leave the trail, it will be much harder for them to find you. 

There are a few things you can do to make sure you stay on the trail:

  • Pay attention to your surroundings and know where the trail goes
  • Stay alert and don't veer off from the path
  • Follow markers or blazes that indicate the trail
  • If you get lost, stay on the trail and don't wander off 

If you take these precautions, you will be less likely to get lost and more likely to be found if you do. 

Make Noise

If you find yourself lost while trail running, it's important to make as much noise as possible to attract attention. Yelling, whistling, and banging on things are all good ways to get attention from people nearby. By making enough noise, you may be able to get help from others and find your way back to the trail. 

Leave a Trail

If you find yourself lost while trail running, there are a few things you can do to help searchers find you. First, if you have anything that can mark the ground, leave a trail behind you as you walk. This will help searchers follow your path. Second, try to stay in one place and make yourself visible. If you keep moving, it will be more difficult for searchers to find you. Finally, if you have a cellphone with you, try to call for help. If you can't get a signal, send text messages or emails instead. 

Gather Resources

If you have a cellphone or other electronic device, try to use it to call for help. Even if you can't get a signal, the device may be helpful in other ways. For example, you can use the flashlight function to signal for help at night. 

Stay Warm

If you get lost while trail running, one of the most important things to do is to stay warm. This can be difficult if it's cold out, but there are a few things you can do to help yourself. 

First, find shelter if possible. If there is no shelter available, try to build a fire. Even a small fire will help you stay warm and make it easier for rescuers to find you. 

Second, keep moving. It may seem counterintuitive, but exercise will actually help you stay warm by generating heat. So even if you're tired, keep moving until you can find shelter or build a fire. 

Lastly, pay attention to your body. If you start to feel hypothermia setting in, it's important to act quickly. There are many symptoms of hypothermia, including drowsiness, slurred speech, confusion, and shivering. If you or someone you're with shows any of these signs, get to a shelter and warm up as soon as possible.

Find Water

Finding a clean source of water can sometimes be difficult, especially if you're in an unfamiliar place or there's a natural disaster. Here are some tips on how to find water when you're in a pinch: 

  • Check for sources of fresh water nearby. This could include rivers, lakes, or streams. If you're not sure if the water is clean, boil it before drinking or use a water filter.
  • Collect rainwater by filling containers like bottles or bags when it rains. You can also collect dew from plants in the morning using a cloth.
  • If there's snow, melt it and boil it before drinking.
  • If you're near a saltwater beach, you can still find fresh water by digging a hole in the sand above the tide line. The water will seep into the hole, and you can collect it using a container.
  • You can also try to find water underground by digging a shaft or tunnel into the ground. The deeper you go, the more likely you are to find groundwater. Be sure to dig several feet down and use a container to collect the water.
  • Lastly, if you're in a desperate situation, you can drink your own urine. It's not the best option, but it will keep you hydrated until you can find a better source of water. 

Signal For Help

If you find yourself lost on the trails, it is important to signal for help as soon as possible. This includes waving your arms, building a signal fire, or using a mirror to reflect sunlight. 

Waving your arms is one of the easiest and most effective ways to signal for help. If there are people nearby, they will see your signals and know that you need assistance. 

Building a signal fire is another great way to attract attention. You can use anything that will burn to build your fire, such as wood, leaves, or paper. Once the fire is lit, it will produce a lot of smoke which will be visible from far away. 

Using a mirror to reflect sunlight is another effective method of signaling for help. This is especially useful during the day when there is plenty of sunlight to reflect. Hold the mirror up so that it reflects the sunlight onto a nearby object. This will create a bright light that will be visible from a distance. 

Stay Calm

If you find yourself getting lost on a trail, it is important to stay calm. This will help you make better decisions and increase your chances of being found.


Peter Brooks

Peter Brooks

I’m a hiker, backpacker, and general outdoor enthusiast. I started hiking out of college while working for the National Forest Service, and have been hiking ever since. I’ve been solo hiking and leading hiking groups for two decades and have completed hundreds of small hikes and some majorones such as the Appalachian Train and the Pacific Crest Trail, and hiked on four continents. I’d love to share some of my insight with you.

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