What to do if you get lost on a hike?

What to do if you get lost on a hike? Path in the snow is a good sign

What to do if you get lost on a hike? Path in the snow is a good sign

Hiking can be as easy as a walk in the park but as soon as you are hiking on unfamiliar trails, you need some navigation skills. Getting lost on a hike is easier than you might think. Even the most experienced hikers  get lost because trails in nature can be quite unremarkable or even change appearance by landslides, fallen trees or branches. In the following we explain why people get lost when hiking and what to do if you get lost.

The information below will help you stay safe on various hiking and mountaineering trails. We recommend writing down the steps to follow if you get lost and storing them in a safe place (like backpack pocket) so you always have them with you when you’re out hiking.

Reasons why hikers get lost

Here are the most common reasons why hikers get lost:

  • Bad visibility
  • Travelling without a map
  • Travelling without a compass/GPS Device
  • Using old maps (trails have changed)
  • Trails are imperceptible or hidden by landslides and fallen trees.
  • Haven’t studied the map prior to hike
  • Relying on other hikers on the route
  • Chatting instead of following the trail (group hiking)

Many hikers who get lost on a hike could prevent this from happening by preparing better. But some conditions are hard to anticipate and prepare for, and that make navigation difficult. In case that you get lost, the steps below will help you to handle the situation.

5 steps to do if you get lost while hiking


As soon as you realize that you are lost, stop immediately. Resist the temptation to keep moving onwards in the hopes of magically finding your way as this will most likely result in getting even further away from the actual trail. Then look around for other people (locals or hikers) who might be able to help you with directions. If you can’t see anybody, start evaluating your options.

Evaluate your options

Keep calm; panic won’t get you back on the trail. If you have a map, now it’s the time to use it – start studying the shape of the terrain around you and try to associate it with the map in order to find your location. Look for larger bodies of water, hilltops etc. If possible, use triangulation to get your precise location. If you don’t have a map, go back in the direction where you came from unless it’s already getting dark and you don’t have any lighting device. In that case, prepare to spend the night out.

Preparing to spend the night out

If it’s already getting dark, it’s better to spend the night out than to wander around and search for a trail – you probably won’t see it anyway and you will need the last daylight to set up camp. Start looking for an adequate place to establish a base camp/shelter.

Next day

Next day you should explore the area around you. Remember the location of your shelter and leave some equipment there so that you can move faster. Keep a lookout for people who might be able to help you with directions. Usually it’s a good idea to climb to a peak nearby that offers good overview of the area.  If this doesn’t work, it’s time to dial 911.

Dial 911

Keep in mind that you may have problems with the signal. If this happens try to climb peaks nearby in order to get the signal.

In most cases people get lost due to bad visibility

Hiking in the fog - an easy way to get lost!

Hiking in the fog – an easy way to get lost!

Hiking in the fog and snow - an easy way to get lost!

Hiking in the fog and snow – an easy way to get lost!

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Author Information


Outdoor enthusiast with experience in all types of hiking and mountaineering. Hiked in the Alps, Iceland and other countries. In love with via ferrata trails and snow-covered slopes. Check out my hikes.

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