Hiking Tip-Navigation

Hiking the Appalachian Trail

Look at the picture above. A good trail path, easy to follow, right? But say it’s mid-day and overcast, and you’re not paying attention. You stop to break and remove your backpack. You void on the right side of the trail, come back over the trail and snack on the other side. You grab your camera, cross back over again and take a picture. Back and forth you go, cropping pictures, poking around, and when you pack up to leave, you head off in the opposite direction from which you came.

Happens more than you might think. Especially when everything looks the same, as in this picture.

Tip: Pick the same side-always-and lay your poles, or something, on that side. I’m right-handed, so I always lay my poles on the right. When I pack up, I’m never confused about direction.

And the most important time to do this–when you tent at night. Have one pole tip pointing in the direction you want to head out in the morning. Twice, on thru-hikes, in the morning, I saw another thru-hiker poling to me, as I hiked toward him. We both knew one of us was heading wrong, because both times we knew each other and our mutual goal. One of those times I was wrong. Not anymore.


Image by NotLiz via Flickr

6 thoughts on “Hiking Tip-Navigation

  1. I carry a compass that was given to me by my grandfather over 50 years ago. It still points north. I learned how smart it was on a cloudy day in a section of woods I thought I knew well. I kept walking knowing I would soon come to the hillside that led out of the stream bottom and toward my uncle’s house where supper was almost ready. No hillside. Nothing but more creek bottom. Out came the ancient compass and the debate. Which was right, my head or this piece of metal? Thirty minutes later I was up the hill and out onto the road just up hill from supper.


  2. Pretty easy to make a stick arrow on the ground for this purpose. Works well to put one in your stealth camp to point you back to the trail or next to your pack for a hint which way to go after lunch is over. Pebbles or rocks work just as well above treeline.


    • Yes, these are also good ideas. Especially the one of pointing back to the trail if you camp further from it. I can remember having that nuisance happen once and I felt very foolish. Thanks.


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