How to Avoid Getting Lost Hiking Off Trail

Most of us have a sense of adventure but many of us avoid the road less traveled because we simply don’t want to get lost.

That’s kind of a no-brainer, right? And if you’ve ever become disoriented while hiking, you know how scary it is. But before you go out and cut into trees to mark your trail, there is a better way.

John Muir once said “The clearest way into the universe is through a forest wilderness.” Getting off the “beaten path” its like an expressway there.

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I have discovered some pretty amazing things when I’ve gotten off the trail from old homesteads, graves, mines and some pretty cool skulls. Bushwhacking has been one of my favorite pastimes. And I always made it back home.

In the good old days I relied on my map and compass skills along with other advanced techniques. But I found that I missed a lot along the way (especially on the way back). There’s a lot to wilderness navigation if you don’t know what you’re doing. That’s why they invented orange trail marking ribbon.

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So I know what you’re thinking: “Gee, that stuff is a real eyesore and a distraction! It’s cheating!” Well, there’s a reason it’s used extensively by the USFS and that reason is reference. It’s also used for communication, which is a good thing.

Most of the “survival” type shows on TV feature some guy with a machete slashing the back of a tree as he forges his way through the jungle or forest. Don’t do that! Unless it’s a life or death situation, please leave the trees alone as it does damage to them and invites disease and insects. It’s their skin for crying out loud!

I’m always curious when I see distant peaks or shady valleys. I often wonder how many folks have gone there. If I have my roll of orange tape with me, it’s a pretty safe bet that I can explore them all with the confidence that I’ll find my way back. It’s a heck of a lot easier than taking compass readings and it gives you the freedom to wander effortlessly without making your brain hurt.

Orange ribbon has another advantage in the event you get hurt on your journey and can’t get back. Assuming you’ve been smart and told someone where you were going, you now have upped your odds of being found in an emergency. I like to write my name on the first strip where I leave the main trail just in case. I keep a Sharpie in my pack for this reason.

The bottom line is that there are treasures just waiting to be discovered no matter where you wander. My little roll of orange tape has been my best navigational friend. The great thing is that nobody will ever know I’ve been there after I take it down on the way back. The forest stays pristine and I get to make it home. Brilliant! 

Photo credit: Flickr CC