Finding your way in the woods
Most everyone who hikes in a strange place for the first time gets lost. It's the easiest thing to do.
Now that we're experiencing a change in the Earth's magnetic field (for whatever reason), a compass is no longer the best way to find your way. In fact, you could get really screwed up going over a long distance using a compass. Hopelessly lost.
The easiest and I think best way to find your bearings is this method:
[link to www.wikihow.com
Some old school survivalist please set me straight if this is teaching people wrong. I'm pretty old myself.
Basically you're going to mark the location of the shadow of the stick, wait 15-20 minutes, which is a good thing to do if you're freaking out anyway, and then mark the shadow again. Drawing a line that connects the shadow marks, will make a East/West indicator.
This is most accurate across the Midwest.
There are a gazillion cray ideas about how to find North or another cardinal point. Most of them are not based on any kind of science whatsoever.
The Sun still rises in the East and sets in the West, but of course, you can be really hungry, low on water, stressed out, and make crazy decisions walking around when the line-of-sight is limited, and get lost.
Most people favor one leg more than the other. When you walk, since you favor that leg, you tend to veer in that direction. What happens is that this can cause you to walk in circles. It's the most natural thing in the world.
If you're in the woods, and walking through all manner of brush and trees, and can't see the sky very well, you have to stay vigilant in your heading. Often, while you may need to go one direction, you have to double back because of an obstacle. It may be dangerous to press forward, or the terrain is too difficult.
The main thing is stay calm. Medieval illiterate people with no maps, and will power, walked from France, to Croatia, to Constantinople, to Jerusalem during the first Crusade. They did this leaving in Winter, and ill-prepared to do so. What one person can do, another person can do.
Lost people get very erratic. Panic sets in, and the direction they take is based upon a gut hunch, and it is most often wrong. People do not have a natural sense of direction.
Walking in the woods is not like walking on flat paved roads. It takes a lot of exertion at times. Pacing yourself and staying alert but relaxed is essential. It's a great time to say a simple prayer.
Going up over a mountain and then back down again to save time, rather than skirting around the base which has more miles, is foolish. The weather patterns on a mountain can rapidly and radically change. It is the height of folly to attempt this with children.
When you walk, you are constantly checking for any sign that you're on the right track. The natural inclination is to chat, and if do this, you can get distracted with a false sense of well-being. A very good thing to do is cup your ears to listen better. I know it sounds like common sense, but people fail to do this all the time. Cupping your ears is exactly what it sounds like. You place your hand behind both ears, and stop, and with no one talking, really listen. You'll be amazed how much you can hear, and it can alert you to distant sounds like running water, animals, people, or vehicles. All of those things may be important if lost.
On survival shows they say to follow water. Let me tell you, that if you're in a wetlands, that crisscrosses a marshy area for acres, you can get hopelessly lost. Yes, water flows downhill, and generally small streams lead to larger bodies of water. Most of the time. That stream may simply flow underground.
The whole point of your unexpected hike is to get somewhere specific, and hopefully you have a map with you, with a clear plastic cover, and you're following it precisely.
If it's a topo map, it will tell you the elevations of the terrain. [link to earthsci.org
The smaller the elevation lines are in width to each other, the bigger the ascent or descent. It means it's abruptly changing, and we've discussed how difficult that will be to hike earlier. Wider widths generally mean the opposite, gradual changes.
You should always, always, always know where the bodies of water are. If you lose your water, which is very easy to do, then re-supply will be the first order of business every day. One person losing their canteen can be a big problem.
No water should be drunk without purification. It is a classic error since it's flowing rapidly and seems pure. Well, the water can look fine, and a dead animal is laying in it not more than 200 yards away. Iodine pills are cheap, purify well, and keep you healthy, no matter how the water tastes. Talk to someone who's had Giardia before. It's a several month process taking special drugs to kill the amoeba that lives in your blood afterwards giving your dysentery. Those drugs most likely will not be common if the SHTF.
The only time you should walk at night is in the desert, and then only if you can see well from moonlight. Stumbling around, crashing through the woods at night, is insanity.