Best Ways To Get Your Bearings in Unfamiliar Terrain

If you are hiking into unfamiliar terrain for the first time, what is the best way to keep your bearings? A compass, a GPS, or a map can all help you determine where your location is.

In addition to a list of supplies that you need, if you keep reading you will also find other tips and tricks to help you keep your bearings in unfamiliar settings on a hiking trip.

Tips for Hiking into Unfamiliar Terrain

Here is a list of tips of things that will help you keep your bearings while hiking into unfamiliar terrain for the first time.

Using a Map to Keep Your Bearings

One of the best ways to keep your bearings on a hiking trip is to use a physical map and update your location regularly. Make sure that you know how to use, follow, and read a map properly before setting off into unfamiliar terrain. In addition to the directions, you will also need to follow the key of the map to understand what it is saying about the terrain.

If you can acquire a map of the hiking trails before your trip this will be very handy. Research the unfamiliar terrain beforehand if you are able, determining what landmarks you may be able to keep a lookout for to guide you. You can keep track of where you are on the map as you go by using different types of lines. For example, some people recommend using a thicker line to differentiate between the steepness of the terrain.

You Are Hiking into Unfamiliar Terrain. What is the Best Way to Keep Your Bearings

Warning: Getting Lost Will Waste Precious Time

You may think that it is not important to have a bearing of your location while hiking new terrain, but that is not true. It can be dangerous to get lost in unfamiliar terrain. One of the most important things about having bearings of your location is that you can determine when you will arrive at your destination.

You need to stay on a timeline when hiking so that you do not run out of water and food supplies. Following a map when you go camping will help you keep from getting lost. You can use a digital GPS to help you, but in the case that the batteries die or you lose signal you don’t want to be left stranded. This is why it is important to have a physical map where you can update your location often.

Mark Your Location On the Map Often

If you are using a physical map to keep your bearings on your location then you will want to update your map regularly with your current location. This is the best way to keep track of where you currently are so that you never lose your bearings. Use different colors or different thickness of line to indicate different areas on the map and also note visual aids, such as streams crossing, that could help you find your way back.

Use Your Compass and Other Tools

If you are hiking into unfamiliar terrain you absolutely need a good compass. Use your compass to take measurements and readings to plot your progress on the map. Paying attention to the direction of your hike is important to keeping a bearing on your location so take advantage of your compass and other tools often.

Planning ahead

When it comes to hiking into unfamiliar terrain you will need to plan ahead. You need to pack all of the necessary supplies and you also will want to acquire a map of the hiking trail before you go. Hiking without a map is not recommended, but if you are in this situation you can use your compass as well as visual landmarks to guide you back to familiar terrain.

Don’t Forget to Check the Weather

You do not want to get stuck in a storm in unfamiliar terrain. Check the weather ahead of time and reschedule if there are incoming storms. Do not go hiking in extreme weather conditions because this can be a huge safety hazard including mudslides, lightning strikes, and flash floods.

You Are Hiking into Unfamiliar Terrain. What is the Best Way to Keep Your Bearings

Pack Essentials Items

There are some essential items that you should bring with you on your hike. You should be dressed for the occasion in weather resistant clothing. You may also wanna wear sunglasses or some other type of sun protection depending on the hike. Here’s a list of the essential items that we recommend that we bring you.

  • First aid kit – if you get hurt you will wish you had brought a first aid kit. Always include some basic first aid supplies such as bandaids, bandages, and disinfectants in case of an emergency. Unfamiliar terrain is the worst place where you could go to get hurt, so make sure to pack for anything.
  • Knife – bringing a hiking knife on a hiking trip is essential. It will protect you from potential predators, and when it comes to safety and survival serves many uses. Knives can help you cook food, fashion tools, and provide protection.
  • Flashlight – bring a flashlight or a headlamp along in case your hike extends into the night. Even if you do not plan on being outside that late, if you get lost in unfamiliar terrain and night falls before you find your way back you will wish you had packed a flashlight. Bring batteries for the flashlight or a solar charger.
  • Food – bring extra food along with you for your trip. Pack more than you will think you will need in case of an emergency. Protein bars and other compact high-carb foods are perfect for hiking snacks.
  • Water – it is unlikely that there will be a source of clean water on your hike so you will need to come prepared with plenty of clean water or your own for drinking and cleaning. Pack more than you think you will need just like with the food.
  • Clothes – another good idea is to pack an extra change of clothes. If your clothes become wet on accident you may be cold and uncomfortable, wishing you had a clean change of clothes.
  • Navigation – if you have access to a GPS then you will want to bring this with you. A simple paper map should also be used. You can usually print off a map of the terrain before going hiking. This is the most important tool for staying on track while hiking. A hiking watch can also help you keep track of the daylight you have left.
  • Fire – in case of emergencies having a source of fire is important. Throw a pack of matches in your backpack next time you go hiking to stay prepared.


If you are hiking into unfamiliar terrain the best way to keep your bearings is to be marking your location on a physical map regularly using your compass to determine your coordinates.

You can also use landmarks such as stream crossings to visually remember your way back. Thanks for reading and stay safe on your next camping trip by packing all of the essentials.