Help yourself find your way around the outdoors. Planning your route on a map is one thing, but knowing where to go when you’re out there is a whole other matter. It is essential that you know how to find your way to your destination, and even more important to know how to get back home.

Did you know?

72% of search and rescues are to recover a single person or someone who has been separated from a multi-person group.
– There and Back, 2016
MSC Blog 
Head to our blog and read articles about how to deal with the challenges you might encounter in the New Zealand wilderness. 

Orange track marker - Nathan W

Follow the correct track markers

Orange triangles represent the marked track. If you see any other marking, like pink, yellow or blue tape or a differently coloured triangle marker, don’t follow it. They typically represent pest control bait lines and may lead you away from where you want to go.



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Outdoor Safety Code

The first thing to remember is that every trip needs a plan, even a short day walk. It doesn't take much to turn a short walk into an 'unexpected night out' in the bush. If you've planned before you hit the track using the outdoor safety code as a guide, there's a good chance you'll be prepared to handle an unexpected turn of events. 

Safety is the outcome of good planning and good decision making
– Mike Daisley, MSC CEO
Find our more about the Outdoor Safety Code below. 

How do people get lost?

New Zealand may not look big on the map, but people often underestimate the thick bush, changing terrain and can become disorientated on even short walks. Common occurrences are:

  • Losing concentration of where they are going
  • Not choosing a suitable route in their skill set
  • Following incorrect track
  • Avoiding obstacles
  • Getting water
  • Taking a shortcut to get there quicker
  • Splitting from a group
  • Following a desired sight or animal

 So if you can, stick to the track!


Have a look at a map 

Below is an online topo map website. We encourage you to take a map and compass on any trip into the outdoors. 

View Larger Topographic Map

Newshub: How easy is it to get lost in the bush?


What you need to know

How to effectively plan a route

Talk to your group members, locals, experts and carefully gauge a route that suits your skills. See the Plan Your Trip section of the Outdoor Safety Code to help you understand everything you need to consider while planning a route. 

How to reduce the chance of getting lost

This might be frequently changing weather, new terrain to navigate, unfamiliar tracks and fatigue from enduring physical activity. Looking after yourself isn’t always about managing the big hazards, sometimes it’s the less obvious details that can lead to unintended consequences. Here’s some tips and tricks worth considering.

      • Stick together – if you’ve headed out with other people, stay as a group. This way you’re able to support each other if decisions need to be made, or if the situation changes. Never leave slower or tired group members behind, stick with them and make it there together.
      • Follow the correct track markers – the orange triangles represent the marked track. If you see any other marking, like pink, yellow or blue tape or a differently coloured triangle marker, don’t follow it, they typically represent pest control bait lines and may lead you away from where you want to go.
      • Think before you turn – track junctions are key decision-making points, use them as an opportunity to stop, regroup with your fellow explorers and before you set off ensure you’re going in the correct direction. These natural pause points are the perfect time to get out your map, grab a bite to eat and drink and readjust your clothing or pack to ensure you’re comfortable.

Helpful hint

Have a group management plan to make sure everyone sticks together along the way.

What essential supplies you need to take

Always take enough supplies for an unexpected night out. See the Take Sufficient Supplies section of the Outdoor Safety Code. You can also find packing lists for your desired activity in our resources. 

Helpful hint

No matter how short your trip is, take enough supplies in case of an unexpected night out.

How to navigate with a map or GPS 

The skills of navigation involve knowing where you are, where you want to go, and how to get there. Various tools help this process. A map, compass, and watch are basic; an altimeter and a Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver are useful extras. However, no tool substitutes for map-reading skills.

Most people are skilled at navigating on roads but find navigating in the outdoors more difficult. Planning, observation, and the skilled use of a map and compass are usually essential. 


Helpful hint

Take spare batteries for your GPS as well as a map and compass for backup.


Laminate your map or keep it dry by carrying it in a clear plastic bag. You can read it through the bag if you fold it to show the required section. Keep your map handy so you can refer to it frequently, particularly when moving through unfamiliar or untracked areas. 

  • Maps are used for many different purposes, so they differ in size, scale, and the type of information shown. Some show only specific features such as roads and towns; others, for example, topographical maps, provide more detailed information. 
  • Use a pencil to write on a map or plot a bearing on it. On laminated maps, you need a pen that will write on the lamination.
  • Free online topographical maps that are able to be saved and printed can be found at 

Declination. Map vs Magnetic North

Below is an instructional video from SILVA UK demonstrating how to use a popular standard compass. Please note: NZ has a strong declination that needs to be adjusted via your compass bezel - Steve Gurney explains this for you.

Helpful hint

See your topo map for the correct declination for your region.

 Helpful Hint

Print multiple versions of your planned route for everyone in your group and get them laminated for waterproofing.

How to navigate with the sun

Ridges, rivers, lakes, peaks and valleys are features which make it easier to travel in the outdoors. Other indicators such as the sun, wind direction, cloud movement, and the time of day, can also help you to navigate.

Direction finding using the sun 

If the sun is even vaguely visible, you can use it to find your direction. The key point is that the sun is in the north at noon.

  1. Point the 12 on an analogue watch towards the sun. In summer, take an hour off for daylight saving. If you don't have an analogue watch, you can visualise where the hour hand would point.
  2. Estimate the halfway point between the 12 and the hour hand. This is true north.
  3. Estimate the direction you want from this point.

Getting lost is always a potential risk in the outdoors, and you might need to get help. It needs to be an emergency situation, but always consider how you might get help if you need it.


How we can help 

Read our Bushcraft Manual

This is a fantastic resource which steps you through the details on navigation in the outdoors. This is available in our online store. 

Read our activity guides

which help with the trip planning and tonnes more information to help you while you are out there. You can find these in our resources search or under each specific activity in the activity section. 

Attend a navigation course

Look for a course provider in your area in our courses section.



What is #MakeItHomeNZ?

MSC encourage exploration and adventure in the incredible wilderness regions of New Zealand. We encourage you to participate, get out there and see what all the fuss is about. New Zealand is on the bucket list of so many people around the world for good reason.
We also encourage safe practices that ensure you make it home to your family and friends. We want you to make it home with adventurous stories, memories and photos. But, most of all we want you to make it home to do it all again next time. That's why on every advertisement, press release, video and resource we reaffirm our intent to help the 1.2 Million+ participants in outdoor recreation to make it home. You can help us spread this philosophy by sharing our resources and following the outdoor safety code so you make it home.
– Mike Daisley, CEO

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