5 Best Orientation Tools to Bring on Your Next Hiking Trip

06/04/2021



As the spring season and warm weather approaches quickly, everyone is itching to get back on the trails and get hiking once again.
The gorgeous views of mountains, nature, and the warm air brightening everyone’s moods is the perfect setting for anyone who loves to hike and ground themselves within nature.
In our modern times, hikers everywhere celebrate the technological advancements that allow us to enjoy the paths and experience without the worry of getting lost. But at the same time there is the risk of getting lost, and that is why it is important to be aware of orientation on hikes.
Orientation is the act of determining the relative position or location of where you are when you are in unfamiliar territory. It is crucial to utilize orientation when you are unsure of where you are or where you need to go, before wandering around aimlessly trying to figure it out.
Staying in your spot and using orientation tools and methods before making decisions on direction can be the difference between getting home safe or not.
There are apps and features on our phones that allow us to do things like track our exact location, utilize GPS, use geolocators, and even provide us with the best trails to embark on while telling us beforehand the exact difficulty level and wildlife we could come across on these trails.
In order to enjoy your hike to the fullest and take advantage of all of the amazing technology created for hikers, you’ll need to prepare ahead of time.
Here we have provided a list to help you decide your preferred orientation technology.  

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The Classic Map 

Nowadays, most younger generations have never even had to consider picking up a physical map to find their way. With all of the technologies we have today, it is rare to come upon someone using a paper map. While hiking though, you must consider the fact that phone service is not a guarantee when you are out trekking through the wilderness. Bringing a map along with you could be that one lifesaver, when your phone is out of service range and AT&T just isn’t cutting it to provide you with the normally accessible map apps.  

 

Compass  

When you are using a map, a compass is key. In order to know which direction you are supposed to be going in, you must figure out what direction you are facing first - north, south, east or west. A compass is the first tool that you should go to when you are lost or need to reorient yourself on the trail or wherever you end up. 

 

Apps 

Though phone service is not a guarantee when you are hiking, a lot of trails that are more popular such as Jackson Hole, Wyoming that we mention in our blog on The Best Ski Resorts to Visit During The Holidays have enough connection so that utilizing apps for navigation can be a first choice when you need to orient yourself. Some apps that are reliable for finding your way include Alltrails with over 50,000 trails between the U.S. and Canada, Hiking Project by REI with over 35,000 trails, and more. These apps and others offer features such as guides to exact trails, augmented reality that can help you find exactly where you are by using your surroundings, navigating tough to reach spots, and more. Be sure to download the best hiking app for your trek before your next hike.  

 

Nature’s Orientation 

Another tried and true way to navigate your hike or to orient yourself when you get lost is utilizing the nature around you. Before all of the high tech apps and gadgets, we had paper maps, but even before that point, hikers and the pioneers that discovered our country had to use nature's directions on newer uncharted territories. Some of the things you can rely on to orient yourself when you are lost include the stars, larger trees/mountains, the sun, the moon and more. The stars allow you to follow things such as constellations and the North star to remember what direction you are moving in or where you came from. Both the sun and the moon can direct you depending on the time of day and the phase of the moon. There are ways to utilize both to figure out which direction you are facing, such as the fact that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. In addition, using things like larger trees, mountains or landmarks can assist you with knowing where you need to go to get back to civilization or move forward on your hike to a particular destination. Though many of these things take pre-hike learning and studying to utilize, being aware of them in a situation where you are lost is crucial to safety in those types of situations.  

 

Trail Signs and Utilities 

One more option to use when you need to orient yourself while out in nature is using the provided trail and signs along the trail you are hiking on. Most, if not all hiking locations, whether you are in the Midwest hiking through the Rockies, or east up in the Adirondacks, have signs along any trail you embark on. Along the trails are these signs that will point you towards different trails by name as well as landmarks such as waterfalls, specific mountains, rock climbing areas, etc. Depending on where you want to end up or what you are planning to take on during your hike you can follow these trails. Another thing to consider is the park rangers or trail guides you may come across or have access to. Most parks and bigger hiking areas have easily accessible resources to help you when you are lost. If you are in immediate danger or are genuinely lost, having things like fire or flares with you to attract the attention of these rangers and personnel can let these people know you need help. There are these personnel as well as other hikers on the trail that can always assist you with getting to where you need to be and helping in orienting yourself mid-hike. Making yourself and your hiking group aware of these resources before you leave is very important to keeping safe and preventing yourself from getting lost.