Leaving the trail – Leave a sign

When you are out hiking in a group or with a mate, there will be a point where someone has to leave the hiking trail to visit natures bathroom. It’s all too common for people to simply walk off the trail, pack in hand when nature calls. You may need to leave the trail briefly to go to the toilet, check out a cool plant, fungus or wildlife (from a distance). If you are leaving the trail to look at something or for a toilet stop, make sure you leave a sign.

You might be surprised to know that many people have become lost after wandering a short distance off the trail. In some circumstances it’s easy to become disoriented and not remember where you came from. When you leave an item on the trail at the point where you left, others know where you left the trail and will have a better chance of finding you.

Personally I prefer to keep my pack with me and leave a non essential item from my pack. This way, if I become lost, I know I will have the necessary gear with me to keep safe until I am found.  Make sure you leave something as a marker. Your pack cover, hiking poles, a hat, anything that will indicate this is where you left.

Leaving a sign and telling someone what you are up to is an easy way you can improve your safety.

Why leaving a sign on the trail makes sense

Reasons to leave a sign

Reduce Disorientation: Stepping off the trail can disrupt your spatial awareness, making it challenging to find your way back, especially in dense vegetation or uneven terrain. Leaving a visual cue reminds you of your exit point.

Signal to Others: Informing your hiking companions about your temporary detour prevents them from panicking or searching unnecessarily.

Increase Search & Rescue Efficiency: Should you get lost, having a marker aids search teams in identifying your last known location, expediting rescue efforts.

Beyond leaving a pack cover

While leaving a non-essential item like a pack cover is an option, consider these alternatives for improved visibility and practicality:

Brightly Colored Marker: Utilise something from your kit such as a hat, bandanna, or even tape (if you have it) in a vibrant color tied to a branch or rock.

Reflective Gear: If leaving during low-light hours, attach a reflective patch or piece of gear to your marker for better visibility.

Natural Materials: In areas with minimal human traffic, consider using fallen branches or rocks to create an arrow pointing back to the trail.

Buddy System: When possible, inform your companion about your destination and estimated return time before leaving the trail.

Navigation Tools: Carry a map, compass, or GPS device, and know how to use them. Even brief detours can benefit from basic navigation skills.


  • Leave no trace: Once you return, remove your temporary marker to maintain the natural beauty of the environment.
  • Adapt to situations: The type of marker you use may vary depending what you have with you, terrain, and weather.
  • Prioritise safety: Don’t venture too far off the trail, and return promptly. If you feel lost, stay put and signal for help.

By incorporating these tips and making “leaving a sign” a standard practice, you can significantly enhance your safety and peace of mind while enjoying the wonders of the outdoors.

8 thoughts on “Leaving the trail – Leave a sign”

  1. I feel like leaving your pack behind on the trail is not the safest course of action?? Surely if you get lost at this point, you’d be better placed to have your pack with you. I’d be inclined to carry a bright ribbon with my name on it, or something similar? Tie that to a tree where I left the trail?

  2. If you have to leave the trail, maybe leave a piece of trail flagging tape instead, rather than your entire pack. The point is to signal if you get lost. People become separated from their pack when they are lost and panic. That’s the worst outcome possible.

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