What to do if you get lost

What to do if you get lost: So you have planned your trip, bought your OS Map, polished up on your compass reading and packed your bag with all the equipment you need. No matter how well organised you are, there is always the chance you could get lost (or temporarily misplaced in your surroundings, as one of my colleagues says).

Losing your route can be scary but with our tips, you can still make your day a success.

Ensuring you don’t get lost starts before you even commence your walk.

Map & Compass for the Yorkshire Dales

Top pre-hike tip 1: Tell someone trustworthy where you are going and when you will be back

Leave a detailed description of where you’re going and when you expect to be back with a close friend or relative.

One of the best ways to ensure you don’t miss any details is to photocopy your route and give it to your trusted person. This means that they can see exactly where you were planning on being and they don’t have to remember the details. With our busy lives, it is all to easy to forget key snippets of information, ‘did they say Black Hill or Brown Hill, Stean Moor or Riggs Moor’.

As part of this information, you should include your estimated return time and instructions of what the trusted person should do if you are late.

Top pre-hike Tip 2: Take a fully charged phone with emergency contact numbers in it.

We shouldn’t rely on our mobile phone but it could certainly help if you become lost. Ensure you keep your phone in a waterproof bag (ziplock sandwich bags work well) and ensure you know how to contact the emergency services. For example in the UK to speak to mountain rescue call 999, ask for the police, and then mountain rescue. After your first call to the police/ mountain rescue you should wait 15 mins, and if you haven’t been contacted back re-call 999 and again ask for police/ mountain rescue.


The what3words app has recently gained a lot of publicity this fantastic app allows users to find their location and inform the emergency services. what3words is a really simple way to talk about location. 3 word addresses are easy to say and share, and are as accurate as GPS coordinates.

Top pre-hike tip 3: Know your environment and pack appropriatelyWhat to do if you get lost: Pack your rucksac appropriately

Learning about the route you are going to take and assessing landmarks you will see, potential dangers such as river crossings, steep crags or military firing ranges can help you realise a mistake before you go compound the issue, -‘I was expecting to have crossed the footbridge by now’ can allow you to revisit the map and ensure you are on the right track.

Having a map and compass and knowing how to use them may seem obvious but even the most experienced outdoor enthusiasts can become out of practice and rusty when these skills haven’t been used for some time.

Take an emergency kit and gear suitable for your trip is paramount, if you do get lost having appropriate gear for your environment can save your life. This leads us on to our next point; check the weather forecast and ensure your clothing and emergency gear is appropriate, carrying a sun hat, foil blanket and extra water won’t help when it starts snowing and the wind gets up. Alongside this check when sunset is, getting stuck on a moor during the night is nobodies idea of fun.

Whilst on your hike following these easy steps can help you find your way again.

Top On the hike Tip 1: Look for landmarks and find them on the map.

Whilst walking you should be looking for key landmarks, you can match them with the landmarks you thought about before commencing the walk. Match any new landmarks including signs with the counterparts on the map. Alongside this mark how long it has taken you to cover distances, if you know it took you 1 hour to walk 2km with 300m of ascent first thing this morning you can apply that to assess if you are going to make the final peak before sunset.

Top On the hike Tip 2: Have eyes in the back of your head

Not literally but regularly look behind you, pay particular attention to what the landscape looks like going back. It may look a bit odd or like you are expecting to be chased but it will help you remember the route back to safety. If you are following a small path, you can leave a small arrow or note particular branches as reminders of your route.

Photography in Yorkshire DalesTop On Hike Tip 3: Get snap happy

Take lots of pictures on your way – they give you a great opportunity to show your loved ones the highlights of your trip but also if you get lost they provide key information for finding your route home.



If you have done all that and still get lost, that is okay, it happens to the best of us.

The first thing to do is STOP.


As soon as you think you are lost, STOP. Stay calm and let your panic pass.


Retrace your steps in your mind. What landmarks did you see? Do you have any photos that will help you find your way back? How did you get to where you are? Which direction were you heading? Where were you when you were last sure of your location? Do not move until you have calmed down and had time to think about your situation in a clear manner.


If you are on a path, stay on the path, it will make it easier to be found and you are more likely to be able to re-chase your steps. Look around you: can you see any landmarks? Can you recognize a craggy outcrop? Try to find what you see around you on the map. Get out your camera, go back through the pictures and do the same thing. Think about time. How long have you been walking? How do you feel? What time is sunset and when are you expected back? What is the weather situation and is it likely to change? Is there natural shelter nearby?


Now is the time to come up with a plan. Don’t move until you have a solid plan. Questions to ask yourself include; am I confident I can retrace my steps? Do I have time to retrace your steps? Do you have phone signal (remember you can contact Mountain Rescue even if your phone says SOS only)? Can you text the emergency services ( Put in the message Which? service you require, What? is the problem and Where? exactly it is. So your text might look like this “Police. man fallen off rocks. broken leg. off top of kinder scout”). If you whistle, might someone hear you? If you have any bright items get them out as it will make it easier for a rescuer to find you.


If you are not confident in this plan, stay put until you have a solid route in mind.

90% of the time you will be able to attract attention or work your way to a known location. If not check out our article with navigation tips to help you when you are lost.