Navigating in Low Visibility

Navigating in Low Visibility

Navigating in Low Visibility


If you spend enough time in the backcountry, you’re going to come across situations where you can’t see well – if at all. Whether the result of low fog, dense vegetation or anything else, low visibility makes navigation difficult to say the least. As a result, your hike becomes as much of a mental game as it does a physical one. Here are our two primary tips to help you navigate through your hike safely in low visibility.

Use Your GPS Wisely

A GPS can be a great tool in low visibility situations. Bear in mind, however, that it’s only as handy as you have programmed it to be. Just keeping a map of the area you’re hiking on your GPS won’t do much good – even if your start and end points are marked. Before going on your hike, you should set intermediate waypoints, identify various hazards along the way like cliffs and particularly challenging sections of your trail and mark them so you know where you should rest and when they’re coming. In case an emergency comes up you should also know where any shelter or bailout spots might be located. This will help you navigate the trail and know it even before you take your first steps.

Plan Ahead With Short Sight Lines

Typically, identifying large landscape features in the distance is pretty simple and they can help you plan out your hike and give you something to focus on as you’re finding your route. When visibility is an issue, however, even that massive peak in the distance can be difficult to spot so you’re going to need to find something a bit closer to keep your eye on as you’re trying to find your way to your next destination. Keeping your sight lines as short as possible will help you to manage your hike and navigate your surroundings more easily. As an effective alternative to constant use of a GPS device, it can actually prove to be safer because you’re not focusing on a small screen instead of the trail in front of you. When you’re using this method, be sure to keep your compass at the ready – it’ll help you keep an eye on your ultimate destination and get from one landmark to another.

Ian Campbell Ian Campbell is the founder of Love the Backcountry and a long time lover of adventure travel. When not writing about the backcountry, he can typically be found hiking, backpacking and camping in the mountains and looking to lay his head beneath as many trees as he can find.