To stay on the trail, keep your eyes open when you’re hiking. Don’t be oblivious to your surroundings, lose the trail and expect to call 911; odds are the places where you’re likely to lose a trail are the same places with sketchy cell service.
If you’re hiking so fast that all you see is your boots, you’re not attentive to passing terrain—its charms or its layout. STOP once in a while. Sniff wildflowers, splash your face in a spring. LISTEN. Maybe the trail is paralleling a stream. Listen to the sound of mountain water. On your left? On your right? Look up at that fire lookout on the nearby ridge. Are you heading toward it or away from it? LOOK AROUND. Paying attention is the best way to stay on the trail and the best insurance against getting lost.
• Watch for way-marks. Parks are marked with basic trail mileage signs and in many other ways, including blazes, disks, posts and cairns.
• Be aware of your surroundings. Note passing landmarks and natural features. Stop now and then to compare your progress on the ground to the route on the map.
• Think for yourself. Just because you’re in the middle or at the end of the line of hikers doesn’t mean you can switch over to autopilot and stop paying attention to where you’re going.
• Eyes in the back of your head. Look behind you frequently. Knowing where you came from always gives you a better feel for where you’re going and prepares you for the return trip.
• Put the trail into words. Sharing what you see and what you expect to see when with your trail companion can confirm whether you’re on the “same page” in regard to the hiking route. Two heads are better than one, four eyes better than two, when it comes to staying on the trail.
• Here comes the sun. Use the east-rising, west-setting sun and its respective position to the trail to help you in your orientation.