What if I get lost? (1/2)

Guidebook Hiking in Finland
Jouni Laaksonen 13.5.2019

This turned out to be a long post, and I decided to divide it to two posts. Today I try to cover these topics:

  • Hiking along marked trails
  • GPS

Next week I’ll continue with same subject, on topics:

  • Hiking outside marked trails
  • The remedy: what to do if you are completely lost?
  • More difficult scenarios


Hiking along marked trails

If you are worried about getting lost, stick to well-marked trails.  I always carry a map and compass also when hiking along a marked trail, and I recommend that to everyone. There are many benefits:

  • You can see from the map what the terrain ahead is like. Is there going to uphill or downhill, where is the next water source, how long it is to the next campfire site etc.
  • If for some reason you lose the marked trail, that’s no problem. As you have a map and compass, you can always navigate back to the trail again.
  • If you find something of interest along your hike, you can change plans, as you can easily see from your map how to find your target.
  • If you are not very familiar with orienteering/navigating, following a marked trail and at the same time following your travel on the map is a great way to learn orienteering. You learn how the terrain between this junction and that stream is shown on the map, and you can practice how to orientate the map north to terrain north, with aid of compass, and so on.

But what if you were walking on a marked trail, and you didn’t have a map, and you lost the trail?

Sometimes a marked trail follows a dirt road for a while and then turns to a narrow path. Or there is a junction of forest paths. The marked trail turns right, but an unmarked path continues straight. If the junction is not clearly marked with a signpost, it’s easy to miss it.

Guidebook Hiking in Finland

For example here you could quite easily miss the turn of the trail. The yellow-marked trail goes to right, but an unmarked path continues straight.

In that case you stop and retrace your steps until you see trail marks once again. If you were walking along a marked trail, you very probably haven’t stepped outside paths and roads even when you lost the trail. You most probably have walked along a dirt road or needle-covered path, so it’s quite easy to follow that same road or path backwards.

It’s a good practice to memorize landmarks along the trail. If you have to retrace your steps, you recognize that old tree with peculiar trunk, this rock with thick moss cover and so on.

Sooner or later you see the painted dot or color-topped pole that marks your trail again.



Naturally, if you have a GPS receiver with map, or smartphone with GPS and map application, it’s hard to get lost. When you don’t know where you are, you check your gadget and it shows your location immediately.

Don’t let electronic safety to lead you out of your bounds, however. Sometimes the gadget may get broken, or you may run out of battery. More on GPS, smartphones and map applications here and here.

Guidebook Hiking in Finland

Note the GPS, satellite  navigator, hanging from the girl’s belt. If you’d get lost, GPS would tell you how to find back to your trail, or to your car. In addition, in our family we have noticed that a GPS gives extra boost to children. It’s nice to see how the distance towards your goal diminishes with every step, or how your route is drawn on the map. Often we don’t use GPS at all, but sometimes it is a good motivator.


Next week I’m going to tell the most serious, but also the most hilarious getting lost situation from my own hiking career. Some decades ago we young boys were deep in the pathless wilderness. We arrived to a river that would flow to left, and then we’d just follow the river to the wilderness hut. But the river flowed to right! How can this be!??



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