At some point in your life, you will probably find yourself lost. Whether this is out of choice or not, you'll need some help to find your way to a hot shower and an episode of The X-Files. In the following guide, I present my own small slice of wisdom on the topic to try and help you acheive that great goal of goals - to survive.
Find out where you are.
Chances are, if you're reading this, you're in a country which is fairly advanced, and will have its own road infrastructure, hopefully with signs at the side which can give you some indication of where you are. All you have to do, then, is find the nearest road and walk along it until you find a sign with a place name you recognise. However, you can't rely on this method all the time. In relatively civilised places such as the Highlands of Scotland, for example, there are roads which go on for miles without a sign, and pass through hamlets wth no announcement of what that place might be called.
Another good method is to find someone and ask them. On the other hand, if you're in a place where you couldn't find a signposted road, this one could turn up blanks. Especially if you've been walking for a few days without a shower and a shave.
If you're doing this out of choice, chances are you have a map. This is your second most valuable tool. Worship it. To use a map, you should first attempt to locate yourself on it. This is harder than it sounds, but it can be done. First, look around you. Any distinguishing features? Rivers? Mountains? Lakes? Make a mental note. Now, look down. What are you walking on? Gravel? Tarmac? Mud? Marsh? Make another mental note. Now look at the horizon and work out what kind of features might be ahead. If you can see two different shades of blue meeting, it's probably the sea. An expanse of grey meeting the blue, an urban area. (Be careful to do this while standing the right way up - it's an easy mistake to make, folks.)
Once you've formed this mental picture of your surroundings, look on the map. Brown rings are contour lines: they show you where the land goes up or down by ten metres - or feet, depending on your nationality. If they are close together and there are lots of them, that shows a tall, steep slope. If there's a little triangle marked in the middle of the rings, that's a spot height, and it's on a mountain. Chances are there won't be too many of these on your map, so if you can see one from where you're standing, you're in luck. Rivers and lakes are marked in blue. There's also a handy thing about rivers - they only flow one way. If you can see a river, check which way it's flowing. You can then check on the map which way it's flowing (generally, from a high-ish point down to a lake or the sea) and thus work out which way you're facing. With a feature like a mountain or river pin-pointed, you can then begin to look for features you saw on the horizon in the relevant place on the map and begin to narrow down which mountain or river you're near.
Observe the scale of your map. If you have a map with you and you're walking, chances are it's 1:25000 or 1:50000. At any rate, down the bottom of the map somewhere should be something showing you the scale - there are squares marked all over the map, probably in light blue, to help you estimate distances as well.
The really lucky, or well prepared, will have a compass. With this beauty, you can find out where North is. That may not sound like much, but combine it with a map, and you can relate the map to your surroundings much easier, and then do all kinds of cool things, so that even if you lose your map, you can continue to walk in the right direction.
Hold your compass flat on the palm of your hand, away from anything magnetic or metallic. The needle will turn and point ot North. You can then take your map and lay your compass on top, turning the map so that the grid lines of the map line up with the needle and everything's facing the right direction. Then you can look at where you'd like to go. For those without a compass: don't worry, you have a watch, right? OK. Take your watch and point the hour hand in the direction of the Sun. Then bisect the angle between this hand and the 12 o'clock position. This gives you the direction of South. Turn around 180 degrees, and you're facing North. Digital watch users can draw a picture of what the time looks like and do the same thing. Who needs a compass?*
*I strongly recommend that this be used only as a last resort.
Find a destination and plan a route.
Look on your map - or in the horizon - and look for areas likely to have quite a few people in them. (Don't aim for huge metropolises, you will die of the shock.) Measure or estimate the distance between where you are and the TV, then take a bearing. This is done by setting the map to the compass, as outlined earlier, then placing the compass over your current location. Then look at where your destination is, and read off the angle - or bearing - it is away from the North position. (Watch and Sun users can estimate this by using the North position and features on the ground. With your bearing set, you can then move the direction of travel arrow of your compass to point along this bearing and walk happily without the aid of a map.
Better, though, would be to plan a sensible route. Since you're not doing this for fun, you'll probably want to stick to main roads or easy-to-follow paths as much as possible. Look on the map or on the ground for any such roads or paths which coincide with your route, then follow them. Trust me, even if it takes twice as long, you won't get lost again. Always take the weather into account, and bear in mind that it could change for the worse at any time. This means that you should only go cross-country as a last resort. Plan to walk at 3 kilometres per hour (1.875 miles per hour) laden, or 5km/h (3.125mph) unladen. If you are climbing or descending (crossing brown lines on the map) during your route, use Naismith's rules. Above all, remember what your goal is.
Rejoice, gloat, and pass on your knowledge.
After you have acheived the amazing feat of returning to your vegetative state, you will find it nigh on impossible not to gloat to others about your feat. Submit to this - you can make it sound a lot harder than it ever was with the benefit of hindsight. Also, submit to the irrepressible desire to tell others your navigation tips so that you can laugh at them when they actually go out and try them. Above all, if you feel like you want to do it again, don't stop yourself - your body has become addicted.
To the anonymous softlinker who thinks this is a prime example of verisimilitude: would you prefer that I include anecdotal evidence of my hiking exploits, thus ruining the flow of the piece? Oh wait, I just used a subjunctive, I must be a geek who never sets foot outside my room. But wait! I also wrote Naismith's rules! Something doesn't add up here...