There are times hiking when you may find yourself in a situation where you seem to be lost or at least are in need of orienting yourself with regard to directions. The first rule in all survival techniques is to not panic. Perhaps you have wandered down a path through some heavy underbrush following animal tracks. Suddenly you look around and have no clue which way to go to return to your camp or vehicle. This can cause a bit of a panic but that is just the time to settle down and think to gather the information you need to determine where to go.
Use a stick or other marker to set down the point at which you now are. This is your starting point. You definitely do not want to follow ordinary animal instinct and end up walking in a circle. What you need now are some landmarks so you can chart your course from your starting point.
You can use the sun’s position, the time of day and your watch to figure out directional points. Point the hour hand on your watch right at the sun. Now imagine a line that runs out from halfway between where the sun is and the place on your watch that indicates twelve o’clock. If you are in the northern hemisphere that imaginary line will be pointing south; if you are in the southern hemisphere it will be pointing north. Locate a landmark, such as a tall tree or mountain in the distance at that north or south point. Without a watch you know the sun rises in the east and sets in the west.
Take a stick and draw out a little map in the dirt or sand of where your camp or vehicle should be with relation to roads you took to get there. Then draw a trail in the direction you remembered heading away from that home base. Add in compass points of north, south, east and west of your campsite on the drawing. Look at where you think you are at and you will have an idea of what direction you need to head towards to return to home base. This, of course, will be the opposite direction from the way you left camp!
Using your starting point and your north or south landmark to determine north, turn your body towards a north direction. Your right side is then on the east, and your left side is on the west. If it is morning the sun should also be on your right; if it is afternoon the sun should be on your left as it sets in the west. The moon is a little different. If it is prior to midnight the moon will rise to the west; after midnight it rises in the eastern sky.
Look at your ground map again to see what direction to go in to get back to where your home base is. Using your starting point and the major landmark you selected turn to the direction you need to go. Always reference your landmark to keep from going in a circle. At night use the moon and stars for directions; the North Star always is in the north.
There are other markers you can reference as you hike along such as moss on trees or plants and flowers. The moss will grow on the north side of the tree where it can get some moistness. Plants usually turn toward the sun or grow facing the sun. If you are following a river remember to head downstream to avoid going up a mountain. Rivers will flow downhill and usually lead to some kind of town or populated area. Train tracks are another path you can use that will lead to some destination even if it is not where you want to be. If you locate a road you may be able to summons help from a passing vehicle.
Any time you are hiking in areas where you may go off the beaten path remember to carry with you some water, a watch, a compass and a survival book. This offers you much better protection than trying to wing it without any helps.