Four Ways to Avoid Getting Lost on a Guided Backpack Trip

It is almost counter-intuitive to consider the possibility of getting lost when you are on a guided backpack trip! After all, guides don’t get “lost”, though sometimes, in new territory, it may take them a few minutes to figure things out. Nonetheless, although we have a 100% success rate in never having lost a client, there have been a couple of clients who managed to get themselves “temporarily misplaced” (we found them). That’s because we are a guide service, not babysitters. Which means that when we have time in and around camp, our guests are free to wonder off on their own or with other members of the group. After all, solitude and personal discovery are two of the many wonderful facets of the wilderness experience, and occasionally being on your own can really enrich the experience of a guided group backpack trip. Keep in mind that our Yellowstone backpacking trips include some areas of densely wooded gentle terrain without obvious landmarks, but really, any chunk of wilderness can present navigational challenges. So, for the sake of safety, we do require our clients to follow a few simple rules:

  1. Never leave camp without your daypack. Inside it should be water, matches or a lighter, an extra layer of warm clothing plus rain-gear (no matter how warm and sunny it is when you leave camp). In grizzly country, have your pepper spray accessible on your body at all times.
  2. Always tell the guide when you are leaving camp and when you’ll return. Also, tell him where or in which direction you are going, and how far — and stay with the plan!
  3. As you are hiking, note landmarks near camp such as stream drainages, rock outcrops or distinctive hills or ridges. And turn around periodically so you’ll see what the terrain will look like on the way back.
  4. If you follow all of these rules, it is difficult to get lost. Difficult, that is, but not impossible. So, if you have left camp and find yourself confused, calm down. Stop. Take a deep breath. Take a 360-degree survey of the terrain. If the way back to camp remains elusive, find a comfortable place to sit and wait. Yes, this is a time when the best thing to do is to do nothing at all! Remember, you are prepared for sudden weather changes (see #1 above). And you’ve told your guide about where you’ll be and when to expect your return (see #2 above). He’ll find you! The worst thing you can do is to panic and begin to wander around until you are no longer on the trajectory where your guide will be searching. So again, and we can’t emphasize this enough, if you are temporarily misplaced, stay put!

OK, there you have it: the Big Wild Way to avoid getting lost in the woods. Or on the tundra. Or in the desert. Again, though we’ve has a couple of close calls, we’ve never lost a client and as we head into our 39th year, we would like to keep that record intact!

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