My question is prompted by the answer of @Aaron to this question; his answer referenced Geraldine's Largay's death on the Appalachian Trail.

Ms. Largay was hiking alone on the AT in Maine. She got lost off-trail in a wild section and remained at a water source rather than attempting to self rescue, possibly because of her poor sense of direction. Searchers came very close, and she was only a mile from the AT itself, but she was found only after she died.

If one is in a similar situation, complete with poor sense of direction, what is an efficient and likely effective way to probe the area in an attempt to self rescue?

Assume below timberline, a temperate climate, and no GPS or PLB or similar devices. Ms. Largay had a water source, which was an impetus to stay put, but let's assume at the time you got lost you were not within sight or sound of water. Assume you are not in a desert. Also assume that there is no visible high hill from whose top you might get your bearings.

  • 1
    Seems like it would be a good thing to develop one's sense of direction (closely related to just paying attention to one's surroundings) well before one gets lost...
    – Jon Custer
    Oct 17, 2018 at 13:04

1 Answer 1


In most cases, and certainly in this one, you want to go downhill following water if at all possible.

Downhill will take you to civilization in almost all cases, as humans have tended to settle in the valleys and not on the mountaintops.

Going downhill will also help one find more water, as streams get bigger the farther downhill you want to go.

The other thing one could do is to use the sun to find directions and just go in one direction instead of wandering in circles - but this has its own problems, and the sun can be blocked by clouds.

The important thing is to not give up and to remember that ultimately you are responsible for your own safety.

  • This works if you have a significant gradient, but it seems Ms. Largay was in a flat area. I don't know if she was near a stream, or in a boggy area where the water flow was not obvious.
    – ab2
    Oct 17, 2018 at 0:22
  • @ab2 I have a hard time believing there was no gradient on the AT. You look for the mountains and head the other way. And it was a general question.
    – paparazzo
    Oct 17, 2018 at 3:48
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    @ab2 I wouldn't say you should have specified flat place. Your question works well as is, and the answer is useful, even if not in 100% of cases. If you are trying to restrict the question to only situations in which you cannot use the terrain to suggest a good strategy and want to know how to avoid getting more lost, you would essentially have to start mapping the area, leaving behind large permanent markers, and basically become a primitive cartographer. I considered making an answer about that, but it would not be based on experience or research.
    – Loduwijk
    Oct 18, 2018 at 22:13
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    Downhill/downstream is not always the right answer. For example, in the Hells Canyon area, it'll very quickly take you to the Snake River, and it's called Hells Canyon for a reason.
    – Mark
    Oct 20, 2018 at 2:41
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    If the flow is too slow to tell visually, you can drop a leaf or some other plant matter into the water and just watch it for a few minutes. It will move down-hill.
    – Ryan_L
    Nov 4, 2018 at 22:28

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