Read backcountry rescue reports as much as we do, and you'll realize that most lost-hiker incidents begin with simple inattention–and worsen with a wrong turn. Don't want us to read about you? Heed this advice on four trail situations that routinely cause problems.
Peak trouble Multiple trail intersections on a summit can make choosing the correct descent route difficult, especially in poor visibility. When you reach the top, take a compass bearing before you snap hero shots to mark the descent route you want to follow. Drop a pole or water bottle at the head of that path. Do not depend on directional signs or arrows.
Cairn clutter Manmade rock piles are only hints, and not always good ones. Cairns are often built by people who are lost or nearly so. Always compare a cairned route to your map.
Sign language Crossed logs or an 'X' made of stones are universal symbols for "Do Not Continue." Another clue you've gone astray: You started on a popular, well-worn trail, but your current path is barely there.
Scatter shot Dividing a group significantly increases the risk of someone getting lost. Stay together from start to finish, and discuss and memorize key landmarks along the route.