Learning basic navigation will help keep you safe when venturing into the great outdoors. From planning your route on a map before you leave, to knowing how to find the way to your destination and back – even if you lose the track – are essential skills for any trip.

Learn the basics and test yourself using our easy-to-use learning tool. Give it a go here: How to stay on track like a pro

Learn Navigation

Watch how to get back on track when you are lost 

How Do People Get Lost?

A track might not look difficult on the map, but it can be easy to become disorientated, even on short walks, by underestimating the density of the bush and changing terrain.

Common mistakes that lead to people getting lost include:

  • Choosing a route that’s too difficult.
  • Losing concentration and missing a track marker.
  • Following the wrong track or track markers.
  • Veering off the track, for example to avoid obstacles, get water, follow a bird or an animal, or to get a better view.
  • Taking a shortcut.
  • Splitting up from your group.

Watch how easy it is to get lost here. 

How to Prepare

  • Choose a track that suits everyone’s abilities | Research the different walks in the area. Plan My Walk is a good place to start. Check out what tramping groups have to say on social media. Talk to the local DOC Visitor Centre – they have a wealth of local knowledge. You can find out more about how to choose a track in our Trip Planning Section.
  • Take navigation tools | A map and compass are basic navigation tools for all tramps. A watch (or phone) is also useful to keep track of how long you’ve been walking. Topographic mapping apps are really helpful, as in the right conditions they will show your current location as well as other features. In challenging terrain, an altimeter (for measuring height above sea level) and a Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver are useful extras.
  • Learn the skills | No matter what navigation tools you choose to take, you’ll need to know how to use them. Basic navigation skills are included here, but also consider reading our Bushcraft Manual, attending a course or learning from someone who has the skills. 

While You Are Out

Staying on track

Looking after yourself isn’t always about managing the big hazards, like changing weather, steep terrain, poorly marked tracks and fatigue. Sometimes it’s the less obvious details that can lead to someone getting lost. To reduce the chance of getting lost:

  • Stick together – walking as a group means you’ll be able to support each other if the situation changes and decisions need to be made. Never leave slower or tired group members behind. Stick with them and you’ll all make it to your destination together. Watch How to Travel as Group
  • Keep an eye on the track markers – orange triangles indicate the official track. Always look out for the next orange marker. There are often other markers for pest control, which could lead you astray. These can be pink, yellow or blue tape, or a differently coloured triangle marker.
  • Think before you turn – track junctions are key decision-making points. When you come to a junction, use it as an opportunity to stop, regroup and have a rest before carrying on together again.

If You Get Lost

Getting lost is always a risk in the outdoors. As part of your planning, learn how to get help if you need it.

What to Do Next

Want to learn more? Check out our other online resources. The more you know, the safer and more enjoyable your trip will be!

Explore Our Resources

  • Get the skills | Find trip planning, emergency and survival, and other essentials in our skills section
  • Read our manuals | Access the NZ Bushcraft Manual and other resources
  • Watch our how-to videos | Learn how to cross a river safely and many more useful skills
  • Plan My Walk app | Use our free planning tool to choose tracks, get alerts, build a gear list and share your plan before you go.

Navigation FAQ