How Not to Get Lost

Walk in a Straight Line

Walk in a straight line. Seriously, there’s isn’t a place in the U.P. that you can’t get out of if you walk in a straight line long enough. You’ll either hit one of the great lakes, river or a road. Either way, you’re not too far from help. The problem is that many people have a very difficult time going straight, even some experienced woodsmen. 

The most common reason is that we can’t help but take the path of least resistance. Going straight might involve climbing over massive deadfalls, or through extreme wet thickets of swamp. 

What I like to do is zero in on something tall in the distance, and walk toward that. It might be a large white pine tree one hundred yards away, or maybe an eagle’s nest atop a hill a mile away. No matter how close or far, I let something lead me as a destination point and then make sure I get there, if not directly. 

Another obstacle? The rotating earth. If you are walking for a short while the sun is your friend. Take note of the direction of your shadow and then keep that consistent to head in a straight line. But as the earth rotates, this strategy could guide you a bit off track. Hopefully you read what to bring in the woods and have your compass. If you do, then you can check your compass every half hour or so, notice the direction of your shadow, and keep walking. This is an ideal way to head in one consistent direction.

Put a topo map in your pocket when you go for a hike. It will help you recognize roads and what direction they might take you. Go to Maps to find where to download some for free. Sometimes you’ll get to a road and not be sure what way you should go. Unlike in the city, roads don’t always just go north, south, east or west. Sometimes they wind and twist their way along the contours of the earth. Especially the gravel roads or two-tracks found deep in the woods. Nonetheless, if you get to any road at all it’s safe to assume you can take it. Hopefully it’s not a dead end. But even if it is, worst case scenario you can turn around and head back in the other direction. Keep in mind some of the two-tracks can go through some nasty swamps. Just because the road may begin to look less traveled doesn’t mean you aren’t going the right way.