Why Humans Totally Freak Out When They Get Lost

Posted by: Doug_Ritter

Why Humans Totally Freak Out When They Get Lost - 05/17/20 12:23 AM

https://www.wired.com/story/why-humans-totally-freak-out-when-they-get-lost/

Great article. Unfortunately, the book is stupid expensive, even on Kindle.

https://smile.amazon.com/Here-There-Scie...4996&sr=8-1
Posted by: Phaedrus

Re: Why Humans Totally Freak Out When They Get Lost - 05/17/20 12:48 AM

A great read! I will consider the book even though it's a bit steep. Probably almost everyone that frequent ETS has experienced being lost. I certainly have! Fortunately I've never been lost for a long time, just very briefly, but I can attest that it's extraordinarily unsettling. Even being lost in a city can elicit the same feelings to a degree which shows how irrational it is; after all, in a city you will almost certainly be able to get assistance instantly even if you don't know the language.

I was once camping in the Black Hills of SD and got lost coming back from the outhouse one night. I felt a mild surge of panic but it was fleeting; partly because it didn't take me long to figure out the way and partly because I knew there was no possibility of getting truly hopelessly lost where I was.

Good find!
Posted by: dougwalkabout

Re: Why Humans Totally Freak Out When They Get Lost - 05/17/20 04:36 AM

Yes, an excellent read, and I confess it makes me cautious about my own abilities. The bush teaches humility with great efficiency. And dehyration happens so fast, and messes with your reasoning.

I have been massively turned around, but always had a mental map of where I probably was and a compass I had tested before the trip. Even then I had to talk myself through it, speaking out loud -- "I know the compass is right, I personally tested it."

I guess the other part is feeling like the bush is sort of a home, certainly with hazards but also with resources I know how to use. So if I can find a water source, drag out some firewood, hug a tree named Bob, I can hopefully realign my head. But it takes a lot of experience to follow that script in a freaky situation.
Posted by: hikermor

Re: Why Humans Totally Freak Out When They Get Lost - 05/17/20 02:07 PM

"I've never been lost, but I have been mighty confused for a few days" - Daniel Boone. Like Boone, I have been mighty confused. Looking back, I think dehydration was an issue.
Posted by: KenK

Re: Why Humans Totally Freak Out When They Get Lost - 05/17/20 03:22 PM

Great article. I've found the account of Gerry's story fascinating and horrifying since I heard of it.

I personally got lost along with a friend while wandering around Taipei, Taiwan at night (after dinner) while still jet-lagged. The signs and streets all started to look the same, though my fogged mind didn't help. Luckily my friend figured out the way back to our hotel.

Every since then I've carried the name/address of my hotel, some kind of paper map, a small compass and a Garmin GPSMAP 60csx (with electronic compass so it works standing still) when exploring unfamiliar places. Of course I'd use the map most, sometimes with the compass, and if getting confused I'll pull out the GPS. I was the guy using the map & compass at Disney World and Seaworld. Hey, it works.

Most places the GPS has been able to get a fairly quick fix, but last summer in the narrow streets of Regensburg, Germany it would not lock onto satellites and kept loosing the fix.

I do worry that I have too much confidence in the GPS being able to lock onto satellites.

QUESTION: Does anyone know how well a modern GPS does getting a lock along the Appalachian Trail? Would a mapping GPS with a topo map of the local area have likely been able to help Gerry?
Posted by: Phaedrus

Re: Why Humans Totally Freak Out When They Get Lost - 05/17/20 06:51 PM

I don't know for sure but I've read that newer units that can use GPS, Glonass and Galileo can get a good fix under a heavy canopy or even indoors.
Posted by: chaosmagnet

Re: Why Humans Totally Freak Out When They Get Lost - 05/17/20 08:35 PM

Originally Posted By: Phaedrus
I don't know for sure but I've read that newer units that can use GPS, Glonass and Galileo can get a good fix under a heavy canopy or even indoors.


Thatís less a function of being able to work with multiple GNSS systems and more a function, I believe, of better antennas and receivers.
Posted by: Phaedrus

Re: Why Humans Totally Freak Out When They Get Lost - 05/17/20 10:12 PM

Probably better antennas and receivers but I think having a larger array of satellites in more constellations increases the odds that a couple of them will have a good line-of-sight angle.
Posted by: KenK

Re: Why Humans Totally Freak Out When They Get Lost - 05/18/20 12:29 AM

My older Garmin GPSMAP 60csx can get a lock in the center of the lower level the lower level of my house with only one window. To my knowledge the big improvement came with the SiRF chipset.

Still, it couldn't get the lock on a narrow German street with two story buildings on either side.
Posted by: AKSAR

Re: Why Humans Totally Freak Out When They Get Lost - 05/18/20 04:20 AM

Originally Posted By: chaosmagnet
Originally Posted By: Phaedrus
I don't know for sure but I've read that newer units that can use GPS, Glonass and Galileo can get a good fix under a heavy canopy or even indoors.
Thatís less a function of being able to work with multiple GNSS systems and more a function, I believe, of better antennas and receivers.

Yes, my understanding is that the biggest improvement in newer GPS units is a more sensitive antenna.

Originally Posted By: KenK
My older Garmin GPSMAP 60csx can get a lock in the center of the lower level the lower level of my house with only one window. To my knowledge the big improvement came with the SiRF chipset.

Again, that is mostly due to a more sensitive antenna.

Originally Posted By: KenK
Still, it couldn't get the lock on a narrow German street with two story buildings on either side.
Originally Posted By: KenK
Most places the GPS has been able to get a fairly quick fix, but last summer in the narrow streets of Regensburg, Germany it would not lock onto satellites and kept loosing the fix.
This is usually due to "multipath error". The direct GPS signal is blocked, but the a signal is bouncing off one of the buildings. This means that the path is longer, hence the time is longer, and the calculated distance from the satellite is longer (and erroneous). I've run into the same problem in urban areas with narrow streets, when the GPS will suddenly tell me I'm one block over from my actual location. I've also had it happen in narrow canyons. Sometimes the unit will ping back and forth between two locations.

Originally Posted By: KenK
QUESTION: Does anyone know how well a modern GPS does getting a lock along the Appalachian Trail? Would a mapping GPS with a topo map of the local area have likely been able to help Gerry?
Should work fine if there is a clear view of the sky. My understanding is that people us GPS all the time on the Appalachian Trail.

Sometimes GPS will have a problem in heavy tree cover, but newer units (with better antennas) will usually do OK. Unless it is really dense forest. If you can look up and see any significant amount of sky at all, you should be able to get a fix in most cases. And you can usually move a short distance to some spot with a slightly better view of the sky and get a fix. Sometimes moving only a few yards will make all the difference. The same thing is true in narrow streets in urban areas.

Remember that the satellites are always moving. So even if a given satellite is totally blocked, or you are getting a multipath error, eventually the unit will get a clear view of 4 satellites and be able to get a decent fix. It sometimes takes awhile though.
Posted by: Russ

Re: Why Humans Totally Freak Out When They Get Lost - 05/21/20 07:14 PM

Both the newer SiRF chipset and better antennas are needed for reliable navigation under a canopy. My Oregon 600 has the newer chipset and in the open where antenna sensitivity is not big deal, it gets a position within 20í faster than my older GPSMAP 60CSx. The 60CSx does have a better (quad helix) antenna and under a canopy that might prove advantageous and might give it an advantage over the Oregon, not sure.

Iím considering a Garmin GPSMAP 64x, which has both a newer chipset and the quad helix antenna, ó the best of both processor and antenna comboís. It also receives from GPS, GLONASS and Galileo satellite systems. That said, Iíve really come to like the display and user interface on the Oregon over the older UI of the 60/62/64/66 family. Decisions decisions...



Posted by: KenK

Re: Why Humans Totally Freak Out When They Get Lost - 05/23/20 03:50 PM

Am I the only person who finds paper maps ... well ... they make me feel ... informed ... smart ... in the know.

I like paper maps a lot. If lost, I would think a paper map would give me something to sit and look at ... and help calm me down.

I tried, but could never get the young men in my son's Boys Scout troop to get interested in paper maps, let alone using a compass to navigate. I'm sure today, as young adults, their sole tool for navigation is a smartphone with whatever mapping software came loaded. Those would have stopped working properly about an hour south of here. ;-)
Posted by: hikermor

Re: Why Humans Totally Freak Out When They Get Lost - 05/23/20 04:20 PM

You and me,at least. I am very happy with items for which batteries are not required. My professional work (archaeology/paleontology) benefits immensely from the development of GPS technologies - the accurate location of materials...
Posted by: pforeman

Re: Why Humans Totally Freak Out When They Get Lost - 05/23/20 05:08 PM

I too appreciate the actual paper map and highly value it. Sure, I love all the electronic gadgets, 'smart' phones, GPS etc. and use them - but I am just to paranoid to fully count on them.

If all else fails a simple compass and paper map of your area can keep you on track and aware of where you are and where you want to go. This (for me) is even more true in a vehicle. Most of the cars on the road today have GPS as does mine and I use it often but... there is still the good old high way map from the State DOT in the glove box and several other area maps of the county too. I'll also print out trip maps on paper from my planning sessions for any road trip so I have a reference to work from if I find myself in disagreement with the GPS advice.

I'm not D. Boone by any stretch of imagination but I too have found myself a "bit confused" now and then when out and about but I never have really felt truly lost. I'm still here so it must be true!
Posted by: AKSAR

Re: Why Humans Totally Freak Out When They Get Lost - 05/23/20 05:53 PM

Originally Posted By: KenK
I tried, but could never get the young men in my son's Boys Scout troop to get interested in paper maps, let alone using a compass to navigate. I'm sure today, as young adults, their sole tool for navigation is a smartphone with whatever mapping software came loaded. Those would have stopped working properly about an hour south of here. ;-)
This is most unfortunate. I'm convinced that one should learn to be adept with printed map and compass before ever touching a GPS. I've read and been told that Navy SEALS and virtually all other SOF personnel must demonstrate serious mastery of traditional map and compass skills before ever starting to use GPS.

Perhaps one way to interest the Boy Sprouts is to present it as a challenge or game? Go to someplace with a good view of surrounding landmarks, give them each a map, and challenge them to see who can first pinpoint their exact location (to a pencil point) by map inspection. Another fun exercise is to have people make a map of a small area using pace and compass? Again, present it as a fun game.

The other thing is, I wish people would get away from the idea of map and compass as only a "backup" to a GPS. Rather, they are tools to be used in conjunction with a GPS. This is particularly true of printed maps. For example, while a GPS screen may show your location pinpointed, it is often very difficult on that tiny screen to see how your location fits in to the bigger picture. A printed map allows one to view a much bigger chunk of territory at a glance. Much better for getting an overview. I really enjoy sitting on some high point, identifying surrounding features on the map, and visualizing the rest of my hike. And one can easily make notes on a map, to record info for future reference.

One last point. We are fortunate that today's technology allows us to combine electronic and traditional navigation tools. For example, it was always an old joke that the area of interest would be at the corner junction of 4 topo quad sheets. Back in the day, we sometimes did all sorts of cutting and splicing of map sheets to properly show the area we were interested in. Nowadays, with computer mapping programs, one can easily generate and print a map centered on our area of interest. Another thing I find very fun and enlightening is to use a GPS (often my iPhone) to record my track. Then at home I can download that into a mapping program to see where I went. One gains lots of interesting insights about terrain. It is fascinating to see clearly how often trails as shown on maps are not exactly where we walked. Lots of fun an interesting things to do using a combination of GPS and trad methods.
Posted by: Russ

Re: Why Humans Totally Freak Out When They Get Lost - 05/23/20 07:06 PM

A few of us are fortunate in that we were introduced to navigation in a time before GPS and cell phones ó for me it was map/chart, compass, sextant and a large celestial table as a reference for calculating a fix based on moon, planets and stars. Iíve seen Dead Reckoning (DR) (an art form) when an aircraft lost all electrical power while the crew was in the middle of the Indian Ocean ó (the navigator used winds heíd calculated during prior flights and navigated the aircraft close enough for the pilots to take over visually). I digress...

We have been grounded with navigation basics. That said, I like GPS for its convenience, speed and accuracy. My new (on the way) Garmin GPSMAPģ 64sx can access three different satellite systems (as required) and also has a barometric altimeter which when used with a good topo map can yield a very accurate location. From that you (or at least I) put the GPS receiver in standby to save the battery and continue to navigate with a mag compass and DR. If/when the GPS dies, I wonít be without navigation; Iíll have lost a convenient shortcut, but I wonít be lost.
Posted by: hikermor

Re: Why Humans Totally Freak Out When They Get Lost - 05/23/20 07:16 PM

When it comes to new tech, I find Google Earth and Google Earth Pro more useful in many situations than a GPS topo map. This is because the most significant failing of the standard USGS 7.5 quadrangles is their historical nature. They frequently do not show roads and other significant cultural features correctly and the location of trails may be ludicrously inaccurate. GE is a very useful adjunct, although you must do your homework before you are in the field.

I can only say that someone in the USGS devote considerable time and energy to insure that the point of significant interest would fall at the junction of four quadrangle sheets. A mere computer would have been incapable.....
Posted by: haertig

Re: Why Humans Totally Freak Out When They Get Lost - 05/23/20 11:55 PM

I practice finding my position with map and compass when hiking. Then I compare that to my GPS to see how well I did. But I've never been lost hiking here in Colorado. You always know "about where you are" simply because of the mountains. You start off in the lower area of a drainage and start hiking upwards usually, and if you don't cross "that big ridge over there", you known you're still in the same drainage. Hike downhill and you're home free. Even if you cross that high ridge, you know you're now in the next drainage over. Of course this requires that you have some idea of the general area you are hiking in.

I would be more fearful hiking in the desert. You don't have the landscape markers (mountains) like we do in Colorado. What do you take a bearing on, to triangulate your position? If you can see a mountain, aren't they so far away as to be off your topo maps? I would be much more active in constantly determining my location in a desert. One, because it's harder to do, and two, because the terrain is much more hostile than here in the mountains. I'm pretty much always going to be able to find water and a sheltered area to sleep if the worst happens. Nothing is guaranteed of course, but all in all I'd rather be in the mountains than in the desert if I was stranded. Might get chilly at night, but firewood is abundant (unless you're above timberline - but just hike to a lower elevation if that's the case).
Posted by: hikermor

Re: Why Humans Totally Freak Out When They Get Lost - 05/24/20 02:03 AM

There are deserts and there are deserts, probably with a variety of land forms from one region to another. my experience is in the American Southwest, where there is lots of terrain relief, just like the mountains of Colorado. Plenty of lower hills and drainages that show up quite well on topo maps.

Terrain association is the way to go, whether in the mountains or lower in the desert. i have used a compass for aid in navigation typically only in conditions of reduced visibility
Posted by: AKSAR

Re: Why Humans Totally Freak Out When They Get Lost - 05/24/20 04:56 AM

Originally Posted By: hikermor
When it comes to new tech, I find Google Earth and Google Earth Pro more useful in many situations than a GPS topo map. This is because the most significant failing of the standard USGS 7.5 quadrangles is their historical nature. They frequently do not show roads and other significant cultural features correctly and the location of trails may be ludicrously inaccurate. GE is a very useful adjunct, although you must do your homework before you are in the field.
Google Earth is definitely useful.

The program I use a lot, perhaps even more than GE, is CalTopo). (Actually I use SARTopo, which is the exact same program with a few extra bells and whistles for SAR use.) CalTopo/SARTopo has generally the most up to date trail and road info of anything I've seen. You can use USGS maps as the base, or the CalTopo contours. You can also use satellite imagery as the base. You can even overlay contours on the imagery. For more info see CalTopo: About. In my experience it is an extremely versatile tool for trip planning, making your own maps, displaying GPS tracks, etc etc.

As I mentioned, CalTopo has a satellite imagery layer. However, GE has the advantage that in many areas it has multiple layers of imagery. With GE, you can sometimes find a different vintage of imagery (perhaps from another season) that better shows the features you are interested in. So in that respect GE is better. However, for most mapping functions, CalTopo/SARTopo is my tool of choice.
Posted by: Herman30

Re: Why Humans Totally Freak Out When They Get Lost - 05/24/20 09:06 AM

Originally Posted By: KenK
Am I the only person who finds paper maps ... well ... they make me feel ... informed ... smart ... in the know.

I like paper maps a lot. If lost, I would think a paper map would give me something to sit and look at ... and help calm me down.


Iīm like you, I like watching paper maps.
Posted by: Chisel

Re: Why Humans Totally Freak Out When They Get Lost - 05/24/20 11:16 AM

They don't have betteries that run out when you need them most.
Posted by: Russ

Re: Why Humans Totally Freak Out When They Get Lost - 05/24/20 06:25 PM

Maps have been useful for many years and people still get lost. None of the technologies (paper maps, basic GPS, mapping GPS) work well without someone taking the info provided from the map (paper or electronic) and applying it to their immediate situation. Situational awareness plays a major part in not getting lost.

Navigation isnít something to do after getting lost, itís what keeps you found. Without good visual reference, once you are turned around and lost, you need to become found. Itís difficult to find yourself on a map while under a canopy where the sun isnít clearly giving you a sense of direction and there are no useable landmarks. A compass is always good to have and is one input, but without reference, it wonít show you where youíre located. Get yourself lost, and even with map and compass you canít place yourself on that map without some reference. A GPS receiver provides that reference.

GPS isnít a panacea. Over-dependence can make you complacent. One thing that Iíve learned is to use all resources in navigation, not just one.
Posted by: hikermor

Re: Why Humans Totally Freak Out When They Get Lost - 05/24/20 07:31 PM

I hae searched for, and found on numerous occasions,various lost individuals. I don't recall that any that we found were carrying a map or compass. This includes one park ranger who went out to check the nature trail 40 years ago and hasn't been seen since (probably met foul play, in my opinion).

A lot of factors may be involved in a "lost" incident, but I'll bet a decent map forestalls many searches....(either paper or digital).