Have you ever been lost in the wilderness?
If you’ve had that experience, then you already know how scary & intense it can be.
One of the greatest dangers is the urge to panic and move faster, which only gets you more lost (we’re going to fix that today).
Most cases of people getting lost are minor. You get turned around while wandering in a new part of the forest.
But occasionally even seasoned outdoors-people get very very lost. If that was you then you might be lucky to be alive today.
Even if you’ve never been lost, you probably still want to brush up on your natural navigation skills.
What Is Natural Navigation & How Can It Help You?
Natural navigation means traversing a landscape without needing to rely on technology like maps, gps or compass.
The skill set covers everything from being able to walk in straight line through the forest (Which is surprisingly difficult if you’ve never practiced before), to knowing the names and orientation of all rivers, hills & valleys within 20 miles of your main wilderness adventure spots.
Natural navigation techniques could save your life…
But even if you never get truly lost, I think you’ll find that tuning your navigational awareness will greatly enhance your outdoor experiences and give you a special kind of edge that most modern explorers are sorely lacking.
In this video you’ll learn three effective techniques for navigating across land and improving your sense of direction:
Benefits of Training Your Navigation Skills:
Human brains are built for navigation.
Your 5 senses are the missing link between what’s happening in the outside world and your ability to perceive, identify and apply patterns for practical use.
Most people allow their navigational awareness to atrophy. My personal experience tells me this also has detrimental effects on the human brain.
People who train their navigation skills are sharper, more focused & capable of memorizing, visualizing and analyzing massive quantities of data in three dimensions.
Yes, the goal of this article is to help you lost-proof yourself so you can explore the wilds of nature with greater ease, comfort & confidence.
But I also want you to get something deeper from this awareness training.
I want you to awaken the latent powers of your mind…
Your Mental Navigation Tools:
Every human being comes with already built-in hardware for orienting themselves in the wilderness landscape.
Your own personal ancestors would have evolved inside an entire culture of awareness that instilled gifts of navigation skill to each member of society.
That also means you have those same genetic capabilities locked away.
Here are 5 mental tools you already have that make it possible for you to know any landscape on a very deep level:
- Your Five Senses (Seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching)
- Ability to quiet your mind & pay attention to your surroundings
- Ability to form & store Mental imagery
- Ability to remember stories & sequence of events
- Ability to draw maps and describe things from nature with words
You’ll notice that every natural navigation skill always comes back to these psychological skills that all people have built-in.
Now let’s get down to business…
How To Never Get Lost In The Woods
Of course you could just stay on well-marked trails.
That’s really the only way to truly guarantee you never get lost.
But you already know that!
I want to show you how you can go exploring off trail anytime you want and still feel confident that you can get home safely.
As I mentioned in the video above, one of the big keys of navigating the landscape is that you never rely on just one technique.
Truly effective and versatile navigation ability comes from a combination of skills & mental training that equips you for any situation you may encounter.
Some techniques work best in deep dark forests. Some techniques only work when the sky is clear. Some techniques are meant for staying within a confined area of land, and others are best for long distances.
There are different techniques to use before you leave for an adventure, during your adventure and even after you come back.
Let’s explore these in order…
#1 – Before You Leave Home
This is a big lesson that most people never learn:
You should never walk blindly into the woods without some kind of preparation. It doesn’t need to be super complex, but you do need to be prepared.
The first rule for safety is simply to tell someone where you’re going and when they should expect you to return.
This means that if you ever do get lost or hurt, they’ll know where to find you and when to start worrying.
The second thing you can do is to study topographical maps and build a very clear mental map of what you’re going to find in the area you’re going to explore.
Quick Keys For Studying Topographic Maps:
Here’s specifically what you can study on a map before you enter the wilderness. You want to get to the point where you can answer the following questions just by memory.
Here they are:
- Topography: Where are the hills and valleys? Where are the major collection points for water? What would you find if you followed the creek? What would you find if you followed the ridgelines?
- Four Directions: What would you find in each of the four directions? Are there major landmarks like highways, railways, rivers, lakes, cities?
- Major Landmarks: Are there any radio towers on top of peaks? If you were standing on top of the highest peak, what could you see that would help you locate yourself in 3 dimensions
- Human populations: Where is the nearest civilization? Are there any trail systems? Where do they go?
Learn Your Landscape In Stages:
The ability to move through the wilds without getting lost is a skill that can and should be trained & developed BEFORE you enter a survival situation.
If you practice memorizing a landscape in ideal circumstances, then you’ll also train yourself to master navigation in any landscape much more quickly.
When I was a student at Wilderness Awareness School they taught us to learn our landscape in stages. I found it to be very wise advice.
The simplified strategy goes something like this:
- Start by getting to know one small area very well – Perhaps 100 paces in every direction. Choose somewhere close to your home and go there often and in all seasons. This is your primary study location where you learn the plants, trees, you study tracking & bird language. You want to get to the point where you can close your eyes and explore every nook & cranny of this place with just your memories.
- Expand your adventures out into the wider landscape by studying maps. Learn the names of your rivers, visit the high points and low points, learn what exists in the north, south, east & west. This is a skill that you should continually hone and practice by drawing your own maps from memory and questioning yourself/other willing study buddies.
#2 – During Your Adventure
This is where the fun begins…
If you’ve done your job correctly in the before phase while preparing to leave, then all you have to do now is get outside, pay attention and enjoy yourself!
At this point you should already know the big picture of your landscape according to the four directions:
- You should already know that following the creek south will take you into town.
- You should already know that heading west would lead you into a massive wilderness, while heading east would lead you to safety.
- You should already know that listening into the distance you can hear the sounds of vehicles passing on the highway.
The main thing you need to do now is pay attention!
Make sure you don’t lose track of camp or find yourself unable to rediscover the trail if you head off to explore something.
Let’s talk about how to practice…
Building Your Navigation Skills
Here’s a fun exercise you can use to practice navigation in a forested landscape. It involves choosing an anchor point and systematically exploring concentric circles out into the wider area.
Here’s how to build your navigation skills:
- Pick a spot to use as your starting point. Put a stick in the ground, or use a natural landmark like a big rock. If you’re able… mark out the four directions with sticks. I explained how to find the four directions by looking at the sun in the video above.
- Take a few moments to study your surroundings. Look at the trees, look at the plants, feel for where the wind is coming from. Listen into the distance. Can you hear vehicles or running water nearby? Which direction are those sounds coming from? Can you see any landmarks or attention-grabbing trees?
- Choose a direction and start by walking ten paces away from your anchor point. Focus on being present with what’s happening in your 5 senses. Don’t just stare at the ground. Look up and around you. Every few paces stop and look behind at where you came from.
- When you get 10 paces away, turn around and walk back to where you came from. Note any new observations you make on the return trip from this new perspective.
- Pick a different direction and do the same thing over again. Walk 10 paces in this new direction and pay conscious attention to your surroundings.
- Practice extending the number of paces you walk away from your anchor point. Explore all four directions and work up to being able to walk 100 paces or farther from your anchor point. Always remembering to stop every few steps to look around.Remember to look behind you and try to always follow the same path back as you took moving away.
This exercise can be practiced over and over again in a variety of landscapes.
As time goes on you’ll get better at tracking the changes in your environment as you move and you’ll naturally start to memorize your steps whenever you move through nature.
With practice, this will enable you to always go off trail without getting lost.
How To Navigate By The Stars
A lot of people want to know how to navigate by following stars.
This technique simply relies on knowing how to find the north star. Once you know which way is north then you also know every other direction.
I personally haven’t found this technique to be particularly helpful in the forest. I suspect it would be more helpful for navigating at sea when you don’t have the benefits of topography & accumulated landscape knowledge.
You can also find the four directions by looking at movement of the sun as I explained in the video above.
The part people forget is that once you find north, then you still need to know which direction you should go and for what purpose.
You still need to know what to look for in each of the four directions. So remember to study your maps! That’s the key to make the whole thing work.
#3 – After You Come Back
After you return from an experience, you now have a priceless opportunity to learn some deeper lessons. The key to improving your skills is practice.
Here’s how you can do it:
- Draw maps of where you went & try to mark locations of where you found things: Try to include distinctive landmarks, edges of forest transitions, high points, low points, big boulders.This is less about making a pretty map and more about revisiting the memories in your mind. By doing this you train yourself to pay closer attention next time.
- Retell the experience to a partner and have them test your memory & awareness by asking you questions.Try to remember the sequence of events. Where were you starting out? What happened in that place? Where did you go next? What did you observe at every step of the journey?With practice you can become very skilled at recounting incredible details in the correct order and sequence.
- Revisit the same locations repeatedly. Every time you visit a location your connection to that place will grow deeper.Developing meaningful connections with a forest is kind of like growing brain-cells.The same braincells that help you know one forest are the same brain-cells that will help you learn a new forest much faster. That’s the key.
What Should You Do If You Ever Get Lost?
The biggest mistake people make when they get lost is to panic.
If you ever notice yourself starting to worry about your location… stop! You never want to continue walking blindly in that state of mind.
Which direction are you walking? What do you already know about this landscape? What’s in the north? What’s in the south?
As long as you know the big picture of your landscape… Getting lost is no longer an issue because you always know generally where you are and generally which direction is good to go (and which direction would be a bad idea to go).
Keep Practicing & You’ll Be Navigating Like Gandalf The Grey In No Time!
If you liked this page then you might also enjoy my free video training called, How To Read The Secrets Of A Forest, where I’ll show you 3 specific types of landscape patterns that you can use to make predictions about nature (and in this case to use as navigation “hooks”).
See you there!
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Thanks for reading 🙂