> Hillwalk Tours Blog > Hiking For Beginners > What to do if you get lost on a hike?
POSTED BY April 7, 2022

Getting lost on a hike… it’s a hiker’s nightmare. If this happens to you, don’t panic. Breathe and make the right decisions. In this post, we outline what to do if you get lost on a hike?

You are lost. You have two options. Stop moving and wait for someone to find you, or try to find your way back on your own.

At first (and in all cases) stay calm. Panic can become your enemy, and it will cause you to make bad decisions. Stop, drink some water, and eat something before you act.

Option 1: If you get lost on a hike: stop and wait for help

Let’s review this first option. So you’re going to sit down and wait for someone to find you. To increase your chances of being located:

1. Call for help

If you are really lost, check that you have network and call for help. And be sure to close any apps that might drain your battery. If you just have “Emergency Call” only signal, this means your network does not have coverage in this area but another network does and they will allow you to call an emergency service number for free.

2. Wait near an easily recognizable place

The important thing is that you stay in one place, and that you help rescuers find you easily. Try to find a good landmark, such as a large tree or a rock formation, while you wait for help to arrive.

West Highland Way Hillwalk Tours Ltd.

3. Use your whistle

As you will have previously read our article Hiking Equipment – Essential Hiking Gear we advise taking a whistle with you while out hiking. So whistle three times (this is the distress signal), wait a few minutes and start again.

4. Get noticed

Find a clearing where you can be spotted from the air. If you are wearing brightly colored clothing, wave it around to give additional visual clues to helpers. You can also put small branches in a circle around your location.

Make a fire. The smoke will draw attention to your position. Place green leaves on the fire to help produce abundant smoke.

Make a fire

5. Prepare for a wait

You might be waiting for a rescue team for a long time as they have to assemble, get organized, find you and then get to your location. So be prepared, collect wood for a fire and try to fill your water bottle if possible. Build a shelter to protect yourself from the elements. If you have to deal with very low temperatures, it is a good idea to look for a cave or similar place to take shelter.

Option 2: If you get lost on a hike: try to find your way

This is the second option. If you are successful, you will find that resolving the situation on your own is often much faster than waiting for help on the spot.

1. Try to retrace your steps

Do not go further on the trail. Turn around and try to determine the last place where you were sure of your exact location. If you can go back there, then you might find your way back.

2. Consult your map

It’s always recommended to take a map with you on a hike. The map will help you determine where you are and, more importantly, where you should be.

Also read our post How To Read A Map: A Hillwalk Guide

A landscape feature on a map - the spot height

3. Use your compass

You have decided to return to civilization on your own, so you need to make sure you don’t walk in circles. So trust your compass to stay on course! Used in conjunction with the topographic map, the compass is the best tool you have for finding your way.

Also read our post How To Use A Compass

4. Use your GPS

If you have a working GPS, bingo! You can definitely find your way back. There are many GPS phone apps out there that can be very useful if you get lost. Be careful, however, because these applications are very battery-intensive!

Another tip, mark your campsite, your car or your home as a landmark on your GPS. This way, you can retrace your steps and find your way back, even if no map is available.

5. Follow water

In some cases, you might find yourself lost without any navigation tool to help you. One of the best solutions then is to follow a river or stream. Streams usually cross settled areas at one point or another!

Hillwalk Tours Ltd.
The Speyside Way

6. Take to the skies

Finally, last tip, climb to the heights. This way you will have a good view and can identify the direction to take. To gain height, look for a hill or mountain that you can climb with relative ease. Do not climb a tree, it is no use, you will not get a better point of view and risk falling and injuring yourself.

We hope that you enjoyed this guide to what to do if you get lost on a hike? If you take a hiking tour with Hillwalk Tours, you’ll also be able to rely on 24/7 support in case you encounter any issues.