Help yourself find your way around the outdoors. Planning your route on a map is one thing, but knowing where to go when you’re out there is a whole other matter. It is essential that you know how to find your way to your destination, and even more important to know how to make it home safe. 

Try our new interactive learning tool: 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?

New Zealand may not look big on the map, but people often underestimate the thick bush, changing terrain and can become disorientated on even short walks. Common occurrences are:

  • Losing concentration of where they are going
  • Not choosing a suitable route in their skill set
  • Following incorrect track/ track markers
  • Avoiding obstacles
  • Getting water
  • Taking a shortcut
  • Splitting from a group
  • Following a desired sight or animal 

Watch as we experimented how easy it is to get lost. 

How to prepare

  • Plan your route effectively | Talk to your group members, locals, experts and carefully choose a trip that suits your skills. You can find out more about how to choose a track on our Trip Planning Section of our website. Excellent sources for local track information are DOC Visitor Centres and I-sites. Free online topographical maps that are able to be saved and printed can be found at
  • Take equipment to help you navigate | A map, compass, and watch are basic; an altimeter and a Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver are useful extras. However, no tool substitutes for map-reading skills. You can find more items to take in our Supplies Section.
  • Learn the skills | We will cover the basics on this page, but consider reading our Bushcraft Manual or attending a course or learning from an experienced person. 

Learn to use a compass

The magnetic compass is an important aid to route finding. If bad weather obscures the sun, stars or land features, you can still navigate with a compass. You should carry one and know how to use it. Take spare batteries if you are using a GPS.

Learn to read a map

Laminate your map / keep it dry in a clear plastic bag. Keep your map handy so you can refer to it frequently, particularly when moving through unfamiliar or untracked areas.

While you are out

How to reduce the chance of getting lost

This might be frequently changing weather, new terrain to navigate, unfamiliar tracks and fatigue from enduring physical activity. Looking after yourself isn’t always about managing the big hazards, sometimes it’s the less obvious details that can lead to unintended consequences. Here’s some tips and tricks worth considering.

  • Stick together – This way you’re able to support each other if decisions need to be made, or if the situation changes. Never leave slower or tired group members behind, stick with them and make it there together. Watch How to Travel as Group
  • Follow the correct track markers – orange triangles represent the marked track. Pink, yellow or blue tape or a differently coloured triangle marker and they typically are for pest control and lead you off track.
  • Think before you turn – track junctions are key decision-making points. Use them as an opportunity to stop, regroup and have a rest before carrying on.

 If you get lost

Getting lost is always a potential risk in the outdoors, and you might need to get help. In this case, it needs to be an emergency situation, but always consider how you might get help if you need it.

What to do next

Continue your preparation with our online resources, there is still plenty to learn to ensure for a safe and enjoyable trip!

Explore our resources

  • Get the skills | in Planning, River Safety and more essentials in our Skills Section
  • Read our manuals | Access the NZ Bushcraft Manual and other digitised resources here
  • Watch our how-to videos | Learn how to cross a river safely and many more useful tips
  • Plan My Walk app | Use our free planning tool to choose tracks, get alerts, build a gear list and share your plan with others before you go.