Not long ago, a group of trail riders got themselves lost in the Badlands Wilderness Area in Central Oregon. Luckily, they had working cellphone and service. But, what if someone's out there and isn't so prepared?

We’ve all either been there or heard the tail of a trail ride gone wrong. Your buddy knew this trail like the back of his hand! He told ya it would only take a couple hours to do this loop. You trusted him (or her). Now, you’ve been out for four hours and the trailhead is nowhere in sight. Neither of you has a compass or a GPS. What do you do? Short of letting your horses roam in hopes they know where the trailer (and their food) is. Here is a few helpful directional hacks to help get you through it.

I’ve got a couple of caveats here before we get started.

First: If you feel unconfident in any of the hacks I’m proposing. Stay where you are. These tricks should only be attempted after they have been practiced and you are confident with them. So play with these tricks before you get into trouble.

Second: Always tell someone where you are going, and how long you plan on being gone. Someone needs to be expecting you back in civilization.

Third: Always carry a flashlight, water, snacks, knife, a needle, tree markers, and something to start a fire.

Even if you are directionally challenged (like me), there's hope. A couple handy MacGyver type ways to get you and your buddy out of this fix. *note* I will be talking about the northern hemisphere.

"Watch" the sun – Yeah, I know watches (especially faced ones) went out when cellphones came in. But, an old fashioned watch can serve as a compass, and you don’t need to know how to read a sun dial to get it done! Important, do this at the trailhead, so you know what direction you came from.

  1. Point your watch’s hour hand at the sun
  2. From the middle of the watch, split the space between the hour hand and the 12 in half.
  3. If you have daylight savings, use the 1 not the 12 mark.
  4. After noon, away from you is south and toward you is north.
  5. In the morning, towards you is south and away from you is north.
  6. Once you know that, the age-old "Never Eat Shredded Wheat” or “Never Eat Soggy Waffles” can float back from childhood.

"Read" the trees – The north side of trees tend to get the least amount of sun. So, the north side of a tree "reaches" for the sun. The branches reach for the sky and lean north. Also, bark is duller on the north side.

Follow your hoofprints – As you go down the trail, take out your trail markers and mark trees whenever there is a fork in the trail. That way, if all else fails, you can go back the way you came.

What hacks do you have for staying found on the trail?