Five Easy Ways to be a Happy Hiker (and not get lost)


I'm already breaking the rule about staying together.
I’m already breaking the rule about staying together.

After two and a half months on the road and over a hundred miles hiked, here’s my guide to staying happy while hiking on the trail.  I’m going to assume you all can figure out the basics like gear, sunscreen, and finding a hiking buddy.

No need to hurry...
No need to hurry…
  1. Start slow and with easy distances. Keep track of your general speed with a watch, and notice how that changes when you have a heavy backpack, serious elevation changes, or are on different types of terrain. We are usually in the 1.5 – 3 mph range, and are slowest with fully loaded packs, uphill, on sand.
  2. Let the slower person lead and set the pace, and tell the faster person to just relax. You’ll stay together while hiking and then be able to hear each other without yelling. Don’t be afraid to slow down, or just stand there at the top of a hill and catch your breath. Most trails have great plant life along the way that you may miss at high speeds. Don’t forget to enjoy the view and maybe take a picture or two.
  3. Bring snacks and water and enjoy them frequently along the way. Camelbaks are amazing for making sure you stay hydrated and don’t hit a wall late in the hike. No need to go all hoighty-toity on the snacks (this from a former paleo eater). Trail mix is traditional, but we eat more PB&J, cheap snack crackers, pop tarts, or generally anything from Costco. Everything tastes better with a good view.
  4. Ladies – bring yourselves some TP and a ziplock bag. Peeing on trees can be fun for us too.
  5. Don’t get too lost. (See my more detailed hints on not getting lost and what to do when you do get lost below.)
I'm wearing the compass because we had already gotten lost on this trip.
I’m wearing my hot orange compass because we had already gotten lost on this trip.

Don’t get lost:

  1. Get a map, compass, and a watch. I suppose a GPS would be nice too but then we’d hardly be wandering now, would we?
  2. When looking at your route, consider the general cardinal direction, elevation change, and time to the next crossroad or landmark. Keep a general eye on the sun, major landmarks, or a compass and ensure you are generally heading the right direction. (e.g., this trail goes mostly SW, downhill, and we should reach the next landmark in 1.7 miles or about 1 hour.)
  3. Pay attention to changes in how the trail looks and if it is well marked – most trails are consistent in width / terrain. When you change natural area, the trail may change as well, but within an area, it should be consistent. Markings include rock cairns (stacks or piles), signs or colored shapes on trees, worn path through the woods. Keep an eye out for major terrain changes (lots of overgrowth, sudden lack of cairns, no path at all) to indicate you went the wrong way.
  4. Trails are usually not THAT steep. If you are really struggling up or down a mountain, you are probably off the path.

If you do get lost…

  1. Backtrack to where you left off and look again for trail markers. We almost always find a turn or path we missed like this.
  2. Use your map / elevation / compass and possibly phone GPS to estimate how you may have missed the trail (e.g., we went way too far downhill, now we’re at a river, therefore we’re probably south of the trail). Note that your phone will pull up a GPS location even if you’re out of service range, as long as you previously looked at a map of the area. Thanks to our sweet t-mobile service, we’ve tested this multiple times both in the US and in other countries.
  3. If you can’t find the trail, find a landmark like a river or stream that you know will eventually hit the trail or road, follow that out.
  4. Finally – if you really do get lost or it gets dark, find a spot to sit still, get comfy, enjoy some more snacks, and wait for rescue.


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