Hiking Tips: Navigation

By now, you may have heard about Geraldine Largay, the Brentwood, Tennessee, woman who got lost after going off the Appalachian trail in July 2013.

Her body wasn’t recovered until October 2015.

“It appears that Largay, who was 66 and lived in Tennessee, survived for nearly four weeks after she was reported missing and three weeks after authorities had given up the search, which was one of the largest in Maine Warden Service history.” – Boston Globe

Geraldine managed to survive for 26 days after getting lost off the trail. During those 26 days she kept a journal and in a chilling last entry she wrote this:

“When you find my body, please call my husband George and my daughter Kerry. It will be the greatest kindness for them to know that I am dead and where you found me — no matter how many years from now. Please find it in your heart to mail the contents of this bag to one of them.”

During those 26 days she set up camp and even constructed a signal flag. Wardens also report it appeared she attempted to build a large fire most likely to signal for help. Her cellphone showed several attempts to text for help but each one failed due to no cell signal.

Sadly, “she was just a 10-minute walk from a dirt trail that turns into a road. She died from a lack of food and environmental exposure.”

While many still speculate on how she got lost in the first place we don’t want to question her judgment or decisions, as of none of us were there or in that situation. Many have questioned the topic of navigation and the use of maps.

Learn to navigate old school

Today technology offers a variety of apps and equipment to helping us navigate, but as we all know, technology can and does fail. Recently while on the road my wife and I used Google Maps on our phone for directions, but we also made sure to have plotted out our trip with a map before leaving. About half way into our trip we realized Google Maps was sending us in a direction that would have made our trip a half hour longer. We decided to follow the map.

Navigating in the woods is even more important. If you get lost and technology fails you could find yourself in a bad situation.

Below are some basic navigation tips as well as some links to help you learn to navigate without technology. It’s a vital bushcraft skill to learn and practice.

Two basic tools for navigation; a map and a compass. Topo maps can be beneficial. They provide you with; elevation, contour lines, contour intervals and contour scale.

You can find great survival and navigation gear from Ultimate Survival Tech 

Check out REI’s article on navigation.

Some commercial (non-USGS) maps include additional features that can be valuable to some users. They include:

  • Highlighted trails
  • Elevation call-outs
  • Distances between trail junctions and landmarks
  • Primitive trails
  • Backcountry campsites
  • Springs
  • Highlighted boundary lines

Also, check out Survivalist101 for more navigation skills.



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