The Importance of Marking Your Trail

  1. GPS1504
    If you have ever spent time in the woods, it is possible that you have once you have lost track of your path. This could be due to unfamiliar surroundings or simply not paying attention, such as in cases where you are taking in the beauty of nature as opposed to taking note of obstacles on your path that could provide direction. Whether this deviation from your course was merely a small misstep or a large one that got you seriously lost, both of these scenarios are preventable by marking your trail.

    Hiking in the woods is one thing, but what about urban areas? You may not think there will ever come a time when you will get lost in the city or town you know so well, but these things can actually happen. This is not to say you should mark your course to work every day, but in a set of extreme circumstances you may someday need guidance getting around an area you ordinary navigate quite well. An example of why this might occur is when a natural disaster changes the landscape you have come to know.

    Photo: G. Sanders

    Natural disasters are able to change lives and landscapes in the blink of an eye. If you follow the news, it is easy to find footage of hurricane and tornado damage as well as many other types of storms and natural disasters. When these events occur, modern conveniences such as street signs and landmarks become a thing of the past. The big yellow house on the corner by which you once gave directions may turn into a pile of rubble or could vanish completely, taking with it not only other familiar sights, but also your entire sense of direction when it comes to navigating a place you used to know. GPS is not 100% reliable either; I personally have been misdirected many times by a GPS while trying to find locations while working disaster deployments. Sure, friendly locals will give you directions, but they will tell you to turn on a street that is no longer marked or to look for a tree that is now gone.

    To avoid getting lost, there are simple steps you can take. First of all, familiarize yourself with your new surroundings. There will be a lot to take in, much of which will change even more as cleanup efforts begin, so look for that which is most likely to remain for the longest period of time and make that a new landmark on which you can rely.

    Photo: G. Sanders

    It is also possible to mark your path, depending on how and where you travel. Vehicular travel and path marking are not a good combination due to a need to stop and get out to make a mark that you might miss when you pass by quickly in the future. However, if you are on foot or riding a bicycle, marking your path can be done easily. You can do this by tying brightly colored string or twine, but that means carrying string around, which can become cumbersome. Instead, consider a chalk trail marker or lumber crayon. These are commonly used to mark lumber to be cut, but they have many other uses, such as preventing you from getting lost by marking a trail. Lumber crayons work whether wet or dry and mark on many surfaces, such as wood, metal, and concrete. They are also available in highly visible colors and keeping one in your BOB won't take up a lot of space.

    Photo: Dixon Industrial

    You may have the good fortune to never get lost, and hopefully this is true for all of us. However, it is possible that a large scale disaster may rob you of such luck. In cases such as those, or for the sake of safety, consider adopting some means of marking the paths you take. This effort will not only benefit you in the event you get lost, but if an injury left you incapacitated, rescuers would be able to follow your markings to find and assist you.

    Do you mark the paths you take, in the woods or other unfamiliar territory? What means do you use to do so? Tell us about it in the comments.

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