Research shows that humans generally use one of two basic methods to find their way: a route-based system, where an individual relies on a series of turns and perhaps landmarks, or a map-based system, where the person imagines looking down on the route from above.
Each has its advantages, and knowing which you tend to use will help you learn what you need to pay attention to.
For instance, can you envision the route perfectly once you’ve seen it on a topography map, or can you recall every switchback and odd-looking boulder you’ve passed on the trail?
Being aware of these styles can help you reinforce natural strengths or work on your weaknesses. Maybe it’ll even help you understand why your spouse continues to get lost despite your impeccable directions!
Our last Afternoon Alert described strategies you can use to improve your natural navigation ability on your own turf. Today, we’ll give you some strategies for keeping your bearings when you’re out on the trail.
Resist the urge to charge down the path. Pause, and orient yourself by noting the general compass direction you’ll be heading. Check to make sure it matches what you see on the map.
Physically point back toward the trailhead once you reach a campsite. Research has shown that people are more likely to guess correctly and remember directions if they physically point in the correct direction. Practice “learning” directions by pointing and guessing, then confirming or correcting with a compass and map.
Recite aloud the prominent landscape features that you pass on your travels, especially when you’re off-trail or in an area where markings are few. For example: “Lake on the left, hill on the right, walking through aspen grove.” Studies have shown that verbally expressing this information helps store it in your memory more effectively than simply reading and observing.
Put on a blindfold in camp, and have someone lead you in a random direction and accompany you as you try to find your way back unblindfolded. This helps you use your other senses-smell and hearing, in particular-to memorize the route.
While blindfolded, use everything you have. You can even keep track of where you’re going by memorizing your muscular movements. The sensory receptors in your leg muscles would tell your brain which direction you’re turning.
Stay focused on the terrain; don’t let conversations or daydreaming distract you.
Take a mental snapshot every 10 minutes as you hike. To find your way back, simply reverse the images.
Remember, we’re all in this together,