Use This Trick if You’re Lost in the Woods

lost in the woods

Adapted from AMC’s Mountain Skills Manual

If you’re lost in the woods, one not-so-well-known approach to locating a more familiar area is the find-me cross. This technique is quite effective, but you have to be self-disciplined to use it.

After admitting that you’re lost, mark your location by building an obvious landmark using rocks or downed branches. Anything on hand will do, as long as you can easily recognize your home base from any direction. This is your safe spot, the place you know. From this spot, identify four directions opposite one another, forming a cross. These could be cardinal directions, but they don’t have to be. From here, proceed as follows:

1. Hike in a straight line away from the center of your cross in the most promising direction. Mark your path along the way by breaking branches or building small cairns. Hike on this path for five minutes while looking around to see if you recognize any landmarks. After five minutes, follow your marked path back to the center of the cross.

2. Next hike in the direction opposite the one you just explored. Again mark your way while looking for familiar signs. Hike on this path for five minutes before returning to the center once again.

3. Repeat these five-minute hikes in the two remaining directions, perpendicular to your first two walks.

4. If your first set of five-minute walks doesn’t reveal any familiar signs or terrain, rehike the first path of the cross again, this time continuing in a straight line for 10 minutes. Take your time to walk slowly, looking for hints as to where you are, listening for familiar sounds, and marking your path. Then do the same in the other three directions.

5. Repeat this exercise, adding five minutes in each direction, until you find your way back to your camp, your vehicle, or a known location.

Remember: Always return to your home base until you find a truly familiar landmark. If not used properly, this strategy could get you more lost than found.


About the Author…

Christian Bisson

AMC Outdoors inspires people to engage in outdoor conservation and recreation through meaningful stories.

Jamie Hannon

AMC Outdoors inspires people to engage in outdoor conservation and recreation through meaningful stories.

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