Are there any good hints, tips and ways you can use to navigate around and find your location in thick fog (apart from a GPS)?

  • A good thing would be to find a high location above the fog. Commented Jan 24, 2012 at 22:20
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    Sometimes you can key on the wind.
    – xpda
    Commented Jan 24, 2012 at 23:34
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    @Roflcoptr would you really want to go higher? It would be further to fall if you walked off a cliff in the fog.
    – Graham
    Commented Jan 26, 2012 at 18:34
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    Land navigation or water navigation?
    – bmike
    Commented Feb 3, 2012 at 16:06
  • Nice suggestions, in my country fog needs windless circumstances and heights are rare to non existent.
    – Willeke
    Commented Jul 15, 2021 at 9:25

10 Answers 10


With fog, the only thing you're losing is extended visibility. This shouldn't throw off your plan too much, unless you were navigating by watching far away landmarks.

If you were on a trail, stay on it. There's no need to wander around. If you can't see anything and traveling is becoming dangerous or you're not sure where you're going, then stop and wait for the fog to lift.

If it's getting dark, you might have to setup camp. Hope you have an emergency kit!

Ultimately it's a judgement call. If you think you can keep marching on without getting lost, then don't worry about the fog. But if the fog is too thick, stop and wait it out. Remember, patience is a virtue :)

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    Stop and wait is such excellent advice anytime you feel lost! Commented Feb 8, 2012 at 23:28
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    @Russell, but stop and think may be better!
    – Roddy
    Commented May 8, 2012 at 9:44
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    @Roddy -- It depends on the persons mental state. It is quite often that stopping and relaxing is actually more important than stopping and thinking. Lost, in the wrong mental state, thinking is a downward panic spiral. Commented May 8, 2012 at 13:29
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    @Russell. I agree totally, but "wait" may be the wrong word as it implies you're just waiting for the weather fairies to wave a wand... Stop, throw on an extra layer, relax, have a brew, and then pull out the map...
    – Roddy
    Commented May 8, 2012 at 15:24
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    Also beware of junctions, even on trails. If you are following one side of the trail and come to a fork, it's possible to head off along the fork on that side even if you meant to be continuing straight onwards. This happened to friend of mine on an old railway line in the fog and they'd gone several miles before they realised the error.
    – Paul Lydon
    Commented Apr 12, 2016 at 11:08

If you need to walk on a compass bearing in poor visibility, stand still, and send someone out in front of you on the correct bearing for a distance (probably as far as you can see). Have them stand still, then walk to them. Repeat. It's slow going, but you will be walking on the correct bearing, and more accurate than just holding the compass out in front of you.

Location finding is a bit trickier - I guess not being lost in the first place is the best idea! Look for any features that may be visible that would be on the map, or any identifiable features that you come across while walking. If you think you know roughly where you are, walk to a feature, like a stream, and if you don't find it then you need to reassess.

  • I like your technique for following along a bearing in the first paragraph, but I'd argue that you shouldn't just wander around to try and find landmarks -- you never know where you'll end up and you'll probably just exacerbate the problem. Commented Jan 25, 2012 at 2:21
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    The technique of having someone walk out in front works in snow or white-ut conditions too. You can vary the technique slightly by getting your friend to walk in a wavy line and use their footprints to sight along, this means your friend doesn't need to stop and you can make better progress. You do need to be within shouting distance though. Commented Jan 25, 2012 at 10:10
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    @HartleyBrody sorry I've phrased it badly, I meant that you should evaluate things on your map that you'd expect to see within the next X minutes of walking, and if you don't see them then you're not where you think you were.
    – Chris
    Commented Jan 25, 2012 at 10:18
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    Sending someone out front as a marker is only needed in featureless landscapes such as a snow-field in a white-out. It's slow and tedious and should only be used when there's no alternative. If you're walking solo in that situation you may have to resort to throwing snowballs or rocks ahead and orienting to those. But it's far more common to be able to take a bearing on a rock, tree or other feature, keeping the whole party moving forwards together. Commented Apr 12, 2016 at 17:19

Pacing and timing can be used to aid navigation in poor visibility. Both methods improve as you gain experience by practicing pacing and timing over different terrains.

  • Pacing by counting steps (beads on your compass lanyard or a mechanical counter will help you avoid loosing count) to estimate distance travelled from a known location.
  • Timing based on, for example, Naismith's Rule to estimate distance from a known location.

You could also use a rope of known length to measure distance.

A great example is safely navigating off the summit of Ben Nevis which requires following a bearing of 231 degrees for 150 metres, then following a bearing of 282 degrees.

  • +1 - fog/night nav requires a map, compass and great skill. Practice makes perfect too, so make sure you have a go in the daytime/good visibility.
    – Qwerky
    Commented Feb 3, 2012 at 9:49

There's a whole bunch of standard map and compass techniques you can use without a GPS.

If you know your location before the fog came down, then you're not lost - you just can't see so far. Change your navigation strategy to have shorter legs, and pick tick points that will be within your vision. Pay particular attention to changes in trail direction and contour interpretation. If you have a good handrail feature (path/river/fence) use that too.

If you are 'lost' and need to re-locate yourself, start by looking around you. Are you by a path or stream, and if so, what direction is it going. What's the terrain doing around you. In particular, in the mountains, what is the slope aspect? (i.e. what's the compass bearing of the 'fall line'). If you have a (correctly set!) altimeter watch that can help reduce the possibilities too.

If you're lucky this will be enough to give you a definitive fix (or enough clues to tell you which way to go, even if you're not 100% sure of position.

But often, there aren't enough definitive clues within sight to fix your position. If so, it's time to move! Not far - maybe 100m or so. Choose the direction to move in based on your previous guesses (ie, pick directions where the presence/absence of particular expected features en route will narrow the possibilities) and obviously avoid directions that could take you near steep drops. Add the clues from your new position to those of the old one. Repeat, if necessary.

There's a whole bunch of books on navigation. My favourite is this one: Ultimate Navigation Manual.

  • Love this answer. I'd never even heard of "handrail feature", before, and I've learned from this. Commented May 9, 2012 at 4:07
  • +1 for the Brotherton book. If it's not in there, you probably don't need it! Commented Apr 12, 2016 at 17:21

This depends of course on the tools you have and what your overall situation is.

For example, if you know that you are on a certain path and you have a compass, and if you are on a slope, you can try to figure out the direction of the slope and compare that to the slopes along the path you are on using your topographic map.


according to the boyscout handbook you can use moss (apparently it usualy/always grows on the North side of the tree...)

It is generally believed that in northern latitudes, the north side of trees and rocks will generally have more luxuriant moss growth on average than other sides. This is assumed to be because the sun on the south side creates a dry environment. South of the equator the reverse would be true. However, naturalists feel that mosses grow on the damper side of trees and rocks.[3] In some cases, such as sunny climates in temperate northern latitudes, this will be the shaded north side of the tree or rock. On steep slopes it may be the uphill side. For mosses that grow on tree branches, this is generally the upper side of the branch on horizontally growing sections or near the crotch. In cool damp cloudy climates, all sides of tree trunks and rocks may be equally damp enough for mosses. And different species of mosses have different moisture and sun requirements so will grow on different sections of the same tree or rock.

Wikipedia page on Moss

  • Now that I didn't know. You learn something new every day!
    – berry120
    Commented Jan 25, 2012 at 0:10
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    This is a bit hit and miss, I certainly wouldn't rely on it in a tight situation. The scout's motto is "Be prepared" so you should really have a map and compass.
    – Qwerky
    Commented Feb 3, 2012 at 9:50
  • absolutely correct but in a pinch...
    – mjrider
    Commented Feb 5, 2012 at 3:25
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    This isn't a very reliable way to determine direction actually. It's usually, sometimes true, but not always. I suppose if I had absolutely no other way to determine direction, then I would use this method.
    – montane
    Commented Mar 12, 2013 at 21:22
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    Remember that this is in a fog. If you are already unsure of your location and direction, then using a method as unreliable as moss for determining direction may make you more lost. If this is what you must resort to, I would consider waiting for the fog to lift, even if that were a day or two, and even if I had no food.
    – Loduwijk
    Commented Sep 13, 2018 at 15:29

In the UK the prevailing wind blows from the south west and trees/ bushes grow away from the wind so assuming one can see a tree it should be easy to determine the other points of the compass. Elsewhere in the world it would be sensible to determine the direction of the prevailing wind prior to setting out.

  • Sounds good when the wind is deterministic. But beware of determining wind direction in your area and assuming it will later be a reliable direction indicator: in my area, we can get winds blowing in one direction one time, then blowing in the opposite direction later on, and this is not a minor occurrence on a small scale either. We get storms coming in from opposite directions (not simultaneously though). If you use this, make sure you know the area well.
    – Loduwijk
    Commented Sep 13, 2018 at 15:33
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    Second point, I just noticed a comment by imsodin on another answer suggesting that it is usually not both foggy and windy. I've never taken notice of that myself, but it makes sense intuitively as the wind would blow the fog away.
    – Loduwijk
    Commented Sep 13, 2018 at 15:35

In poor visibility you need to fall back on the basic navigational techniques of dead reckoning and any terrain features that you can still positively identify and follow.

Dead reckoning involved keeping close track of the direction you are walking in and how far you walk. With practice this can be reasonably accurate, especially if you can augment is with hints from the terrain eg whether you are going uphill or downhill. However the problem is that even with great care it is easy for errors to accumulate and difficult terrain can make distance estimation very difficult.

You can compensate for this to some extent be being conservative in your navigation eg by taking a route which is easy to follow rather than the quickest or most direct. For example by following a ridge, stream or treeline.

Similarly if you are aiming at a point on a linear feature for example a bridge over a river it is safer to 'aim off'. For example if you know there is a bridge due north of you crossing a river which runs east-west, then rather than taking a bearing due north aim off to the east by a good margin so that you know for sure that when you strike the river you need to head west to find the bridge.

Another key point is that if it looks like the weather might be closing in, that is the point to stop and make absolutely sure that you know where you are and double and triple check it. At this point make a decision about whether to continue on your planned route, stop, turn back, find an alternate route or head for an achievable place to wait out the bad weather.

If you know your exact location when visibility gets bad (which you should) then think carefully about the worst case scenario of getting badly lost falling off a cliff or stumbling into a bog is going to be worse than an unplanned night on a hill.


Back in 2014 I was climbing Ben Nevis, where the weather was relative calm on the climb. At the time, I didn't truly appreciate how fast weather conditions can actually change, so to my surprise, I was shocked when a heavy fog felt like it came out of nowhere and disorientated me. My tips would be:

  1. Bring a camera with you, taking photos of quite obvious focal points. This sounds basic, but if you get lost, it will help you backtrack.
  2. Download the What3Words app on your phone. This is a great and easy way to pinpoint your location.
  3. Spend hours investigating the weather before you go anywhere, that thick fog is known to form. Most people just take the risk, when there is no need for it.
  • Most of my downvote is for the What3Words app. Aside from it having various issues that make it unsafe to use when contacting emergency services (minor spelling mistakes or plurals can throw you off) if you have a phone, the GPS capability combined with satellite photos and contour maps gives you precision and context.
    – Rory Alsop
    Commented Jul 15, 2021 at 13:12
  • 1 is useless in a white-out fog. 2 is asinine. If you already have an electronic device that can locate you on a map, the app has absolutely no added value. 3 is okay but weather can be unpredictable. The answer is missing the most critical part which is already in the accepted answer: if you cannot orient, stop and wait it out. That's why I -1.
    – Gabriel
    Commented Jul 15, 2021 at 16:35
  • @Turnake - more and more of them are recommending not to use it, as the numbers of missed rescues continues to increase. They initially thought it would be good, not realising the flaws that make it very dangerous. Follow Cybergibbons for loads more info: twitter.com/cybergibbons/status/1393867471002734593
    – Rory Alsop
    Commented Nov 19, 2021 at 9:29

If you know about the wind then that might help you. For example, a northerly wind blows from the north to the south, likewise an easterly wind is a wind that originates in the east and blows west and so on.

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    This appears predicated on knowing already the direction. If I am lost in a fog and how can I determine the direction of the wind (ie, easterly) without already knowing the direction (at which point, why would I need to wind to give direction?). Please explain more how this method could be used. Commented Feb 7, 2012 at 20:25
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    comment by an anonymous user from edit: Problem is that in thick fog there is usually no wind
    – imsodin
    Commented Dec 22, 2015 at 14:32

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