There are several systems used around the world to indicate key information about a hiking trail so you’ll know your way and not get lost. Knowing these common methods used for marking trails will prevent you from wasting time strolling around to find the trail.
If you’re an outdoor junkie, you need to learn these trail blazes and what they mean. That’s what we’re here for. We talk about what trail markers are, the different types of trail blazes and what they mean, and other ways to avoid getting lost on trail!
What are Trail Markers?
Trails don’t naturally occur because they are planned, built, and blazed so hikers and other adventurers can travel safely. They are used to help you follow a certain path and to indicate things like the beginning of the trail, a change of direction, or an intersection.
Trail markers are found on prominent trees that are easy to see on the trail, usually above eye level or slightly higher. Painted markers are roughly two inches wide and six inches tall. Meanwhile, other markers and signs vary in size.
Types of Trail Blazes
One trail marking that is commonly used is called the blaze. Blazes have two different types, paint blazes which are painted on trees, and carved blazes that are chiseled into trees or stones on the side of a path. Painted blazes are usually marked on white paint but the color may vary depending on the location.
Another term to learn is cairns or rock duck. These are carefully arranged piles of rocks to assist hikers in places where there are no trees or where there is poor visibility. They are formed through a small two-stoned pyramid. This is a pyramid that is augmented to communicate various messages. Some native Americans used twigs and grass as trail markings.
The next type of trail marking is a post which usually has words, so it’s relatively the easiest to determine. These are used on ridgelines, rocky outcrops, and wherever else stones are not available.
Lastly, some trails are blazed with flags or ribbons in lieu of paint or affixed markers. These are tied to a tree branch that can be spotted easily from the trail.
What Trail Blazes Mean
These kinds of trail markings also involve three pieces of information: the starts of a trail, directions like turn right or left, and warnings. Some trails use so-called reassurance blazes to let hikers know that they are on the right track.
Sometimes, it is easy to guess what these markings mean even if they are sometimes different in terms of appearance. Markers follow the same pattern.
- Trail identifiers or reassurance blazes are indicated by single markers like a vertical line. Cairns, on the other hand, use a single pyramid.
- Directions are indicated by a reassurance marker with an accent on the right or left using a rock to the side of a cairn or a second vertical line on the side of the main blaze.
- Warnings can be determined by multiple markers that are grouped together. This could be in the form of a vertical line above another r a stack of three stones in a cairn.
Generally, blazes should be placed 200 to 300 yards apart, but that only depends on the difficulty of the trail. For example, if the path is easy to distinguish, then blaze frequency can be reduced. No matter the frequency, all of these markings must be made at regular intervals.
Other Ways to Avoid Getting Lost on Trail
Getting lost is no fun, so make sure to do these things as well to stay on track.
- Look at the map and know your route
- Look for definite spots and landmarks
- Pay attention to how long you have been hiking, paddling, or skiing
- Get a fix if you are confused about where you are. This will help you establish a position before deciding which way to go.