Written by 5:05 pm Wilderness Navigation Masters • One Comment

27) How to retrace your steps

Do you know that, if you are in the wilderness and every 5 minutes you see someone turning his back to look at you, this person is not a weirdo, he is just trying to get a visual memory of his walking-back path?

Yes, this is one of the techniques that you should do in the wilderness to retrace your steps successfully.

Hello and welcome to this lesson of the online course Wilderness Navigation Masters named how to retrace your steps, where you will learn why and how to retrace your steps.

Why and how to retrace your steps:

  • If you want to do an out-and-back trip in the backcountry.

  • If you are disoriented in the wilderness, and you want to get back to the last starting point.
  • If you hurt your knees for example, so you can’t continue going along, and you want to get back to your starting point.
  • There are many scenarios when you want to retrace your steps.


One of the backcountry/wilderness rules:

If you want to hike in the backcountry or just in the wilderness, one of the rules that you should always follow is to not walk in a direction, unless you can walk it back, retracing your steps.

Because, I suppose that you started getting confidence in yourself after what you’ve learned till now, and what you will do is to hike following a bearing, and after you reach here,

you know that you’ve deviated a little bit to the right and what you should do is to walk in this direction without noting down any bearings or measurements, because, it’s just a small walk.

No, this is too risky in the backcountry, and doing that can get you lost easily.

Because, there is a chance that you will not succeed in this small walk, and what happens after you realize that, is that you will try to retrace back this little walk, and you will finish by getting more lost.

And even, the back bearing of the first foreward bearing, will not help you to return to your starting point.

What you should do?

To avoid that, note down your distances and the bearings that you’ve walked following, to guarantee to have the ability to retrace your steps, even for small distances.

Why distances and not time or paces?

Distance is more accurate, because distance walking uphill for 30 minutes, for example, is different from distance returning downhill for the same amount of time, even if you follow the same path.

It’s the same thing with paces.

Return back to a spot:

Another case when being able to retrace your steps can be useful is when you found a place like a mushroom spot and you want to get back to it the next day with another friend, or you did hide a treasure in a place, and you want to get back to it after.

What you should do is :

  • Triangulate this spot with the back bearing of three landmarks.

  • Draw this back bearing on your map, or create a simplified picture of these three back bearings.

  • When you try to get back to this place, all you have to do is to get back to it approximately and place yourself along with one of these back bearings.

Then, walking only in this line, try to align yourself with the second bearing.

Now you are near this place, you can check that by shooting the third back bearing.


We’ve seen :

  • Why being able to retrace your steps is mandatory when you are hiking in the wilderness
  • How to do it
  • How to get back to the place where you did hide your treasure.



In this exercise, I want you to:

  • Reread this lesson more than one time.
  • Get outdoor to a place that you are familiar with, to not get lost.
  • Hide a “treasure” in a place and mark it with a big enough rock or something distinguishable.
  • Take the back bearings of 2 landmarks minimum, and walk away from this place.
  • Try to found your treasure, by aligning yourself to the first bearing, then to the second one.


Share with us in the comments section below how much time it takes you to succeed in that.

That’s all for this lesson, thank you and see you in the next lesson.

Updated on June 7, 2021 by Ben

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