Alice: Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go?

Cheshire cat: That depends on where you want to get to.

Alice: I don’t care where.

Cheshire cat: Then it doesn’t much matter which way you go.

Alice: …so long as I get somewhere.

Cheshire cat: Oh, you’re sure to do that, if only you walk long enough.

Why is it so easy to get lost in the jungle?  In fact there are many reasons and here are few:

  • Trails rarely go in a straight line but twist and turn round natural obstacles.
  • There are no far-off landmarks to aim for, the jungle blocks your line of sight.
  • Most people will naturally walk in circles if they lose their bearings.
  • Trails get overgrown, there can be landslides, trees fall across trails, trails get washed away,
  • Trails made by humans look very like trails made by animals to the untrained eye.
  • The sun isn’t much help for navigation if you’re on the equator.
  • The stars aren’t much help either as you rarely get to see them in a tropical rainforest.
  • Learning to ‘read’ the jungle requires familiarity with the plants and trees (these are your landmarks).
  • Maps are usually drawn from (often out-of-date) aerial photographs and often get the details wrong.
  • Even with a compass it is usually difficult to move in a straight line (e.g. trees/rattan/bamboo etc block a straight path)
  • GPS can pack-up in the humidity of the jungle.
  • Heat, humidity and/or hard rain all affect our ability to think clearly.
  • Most people panic if they get lost in a jungle and make poor decisions.

In the video below I cover some very basic considerations to help you if you are going into the jungle and show you how, if you do get lost, you can avoid getting even more lost.

Of the people I know here in Malaysia who regularly go into the jungle, all of them have been ‘lost’ at some point or other (including the Orang Asli and including me!) – there is no shame in getting lost in the jungle and anyone can get ‘turned around’ in the right (or rather, wrong) circumstances – of the people I know who got lost and have some junglecraft skills, all were able to find the trail again on their own and get out of the jungle.  The most important thing is to remember the ABC (always be cool) rule and, should you get lost, to take your time to assess the situation thoroughly before deciding what to do next.

The other advantage of knowing some junglecraft skills is that getting lost isn’t as likely to send you into a panic – with the right knowledge, the prospect of an unplanned night-or-few in the jungle isn’t going to send you into a spin and, with a cool head, you’re more likely to make the right decision about what to do next  (…should I stay or should I go?)

If you are coming to the jungle for the first time, your eye isn’t going to be ‘tuned-in’ to the jungle and it will be difficult for you to follow the trail with the practised ease of a local.  One way to quickly improve your trail following ability is to ask the guide (and you should take a guide with you) to let you lead for a while and really test yourself – if nothing else it will probably provide some amusement for your guide who will find it hilarious that you can’t see the trail that is so blindingly obvious to him!

I’ll cover more on navigation in later videos and ways to minimize the risk of getting lost in the first place but, should you get lost, remember to STOP and think before you go further, trail blaze any path you then take and find a way of making a noise/smoke or other method of attracting the attention of any nearby rescue party.