Advanced Navigation Techniques for when you get lost (or misplaced)

Advanced Navigation Techniques for when you get lost (or misplaced) : It is inevitable that at some point in our outdoor life we will become lost, this can happen for a number of reasons including lack of attention, rapid weather change, mistiming your day or sheer misfortune.

The below tips are advanced tips and as such, you should have a level of competence and navigational knowledge. As with any skills, it is important you practice these skills before requiring them.

Firstly we will try to find our current location, most of the time we will be able to get back onto our track or retrace our steps. We can use a variety of methods to do this including, using GPS coordinates or app, using transit lines, using a compass bearing and using triangulation.


Compass Bearing Navigation TechniqueTransit Lines: If on your map you can see that two or more features are linear you can create a transit line as long as the path is on the map. There will only be one single point where the transit line crosses your path.

Compass Bearings: If you know which path you are on but not where you are along that path and you have a compass and a map you can use a compass bearing. Spot a feature in the distance which also appears on your map and take a bearing between yourself and the feature. You can now transpose this onto your map.

Triangulation: Look for 3 features spread out around you (ideally with 120 degrees between each). Take a bearing for each and transpose onto the map you should find they cross leaving a small triangle identifying where you are.


For more information on these skills visit

Unfortunately sometimes especially in the UK, we can experience poor visibility on the hills, in which case we would struggle with the above skills, however, navigating at night or in poor weather shouldn’t put off a skilled navigator.

Tip 1: Return to your last known place.

This doesn’t require much explanation but methodologically make your way back to the route or too somewhere you are certain of your location.

Tip 2: Rule out where you are not.

There are a number of ways to do this but 2 key points are to use features such as rivers, ridges or valleys, basically anything that travels in a straight line. The second is to use a slope, this is especially useful if you are on a hill or plateau.

For both take a bearing, for the rivers and ridges take a bearing along them in a straight line, transpose onto your map and see where the bearing fits. For the slope take a bearing perpendicular to the aspect and again transpose onto the map.

You can combine these options to narrow down your location.

Advanced Navigation Techniques for when you get lost (or misplaced)Tip 3: Following a bearing in poor visibility

You have worked out where you are and now you need to get your next location, but it is foggy and miserable and you have no landmarks to help you stay on your bearing. One easy method is to use your walking partner as a feature.

Both of you will have compasses, the first person walks ahead on the bearing the best they can, staying within the limit of visibility. The 2nd person can now check the bearing to the first and give them directions if they have veered off course. The 2nd person can now catch up the first and repeat the process.

Another method to stay on a bearing is by leaving rocks, sticks or snowballs behind, or throwing them in front

Tip 4: Search methods

If you haven’t been able to locate yourself because the weather is so poor or you are struggling to find your next point there are 2 main methods for an effective search.

Firstly the line or sweep search. Think police searching the grounds for evidence. Within a group of walkers, everyone stands in a line abreast with gaps so that the whole group is in visible contact. From here everyone walks in a line to be searched until the checkpoint is located. This requires the leader to be placed in the middle of the line or just behind, they will control the pace and ensure the line stays nice and straight.

Secondly the spiral search, this method is great if you are on your own but know you are close to your next checkpoint. It is also a great technique if you have nothing to orientate yourself on at all.

From your starting point walk along a bearing for x number of steps or a defined distance. This distance should be under the limit of your visibility. From here rotate 90 degrees to the right and walk 2 times the first distance, turn 90 degrees right and walk 3 times the first distance. Repeat the process extending the walking time each time until you find a destination or a suitable feature you can navigate from.


There are a number of ways for locating yourself when you might be lost in the area. All of these techniques need to be practised to ensure when needed they are there. We aim to avoid these situations by ensuring we are well prepared and suitably experienced. To find out more or to book on a navigation course contact