Wayfinding. A strange and arcane skill that seems antithetical to the very essence of exploration and adventure. With increasingly sophisticated GPS units, steady improvements to map databases online, and a growing number of apps designed for hikers, it would appear that the halcyon days of blindly wandering into the wilderness are numbered. Sure, older generations will continue to remember the profound pleasures of getting truly, completely lost, but in a matter of years, their grandchildren likely won't understand. Technology will render the experience obsolete.
Fortunately for the nostalgic hiker who longs to feel that pit in the stomach that forms upon realizing you're definitely off course and probably won't be able to successfully reorient yourself, there are a few easy tricks for losing the way. Better yet, there's a good chance you've already done one of more of the following, so remembering all five should be relatively easy to accomplish. Even if you don't though, it's still possible to confuse yourself enough to increase the odds of stumbling through miles of underbrush, hoping to somehow get your bearings again.
- Don't Bring a Map. In fact, don’t even look at one before you leave home. Assume your smartphone will suffice and will hold its charge long enough to get you into the woods and back out again. Think twice before packing a bulky guidebook or wasting money on an expensive plastic compass.
- Ignore Trail Blazes. Count on well worn paths to lead you straight to your destination and bank on the smaller side trails being shortcuts when you get tired. Tell yourself you’ll definitely remember all of the turns and intersections when as you retrace your route in the opposite direction at the end of the day. Trust that markers will be easy to spot and a breeze to follow on your first try.
- Go Easy on the Water. Let’s face it, you probably won’t get that thirsty on a short day hike. Plus, water bottles and hydration packs weigh a ton and will just slow you down. Few, if any poor decisions ever result from heat exhaustion or dehydration.
- Keep Moving Forward. If you’re uncertain about that last turn or bend in the trail, don’t turn around, push on. You’ll definitely bump into other hikers who will be able to redirect you. The worst thing you can do is stay put. Besides, you’ll probably cross a few big roads on any hike lasting more than a few hours. Bailing out is for quitters—you’ve got peaks to bag and you need the photos to prove it.
- Leave No Trace. Don’t worry about telling anyone where you’re going, you’ll be back before they even notice you’re gone. Leaving a note for a loved one or a roommate seems silly when you’re planning to be back for dinner anyway. And don't forget: rangers ruthlessly mock hikers who check in at a park office or visitor center.