Marking a trail makes it easier to find your way over unknown terrain and can also help keep you on a true course. Walking in a straight line is not as easy as it sounds. We all have a predominant leg just as we all have a preferred hand. This will cause anybody and everybody to walk in a large circle unless you use a compass or landmarks to keep yourself on track. In cities and towns the roads and buildings allow us to make the tiny corrections unconsciously that keep us walking that straight line with ease using street signs. In the wilderness, you have to make your own signs.
In any wilderness situation be very observant of your surroundings, always on the lookout for water, food, and danger. Pay attention to the weather and seek shelter if it looks bad. Conserve your energy and stay hydrated. Always keep the risk of personal injury in mind. You may have limited resources and no help in the wilderness.
Traditional ways of marking a trail include:
Piling or arranging stones
Arranging sticks in symbols or patterns
Tying live tufts of grass and bending them to point in a particular direction
Pieces of flag tape tied in appropriate places.
The more out of place your trail markings look, the easier they will be to spot.
Landmarks in the natural terrain, such as hills, distant peaks, or a notch on the horizon can all be used with other trail marking techniques. Be creative when marking your trail and keep each mark within viewing distance of the previous two to keep yourself going in a straight line towards your goal and making it easier to return if you need to.
The natural features of wild country conspire to get the unwary or unobservant off track. In densely wooded areas, this is particularly true. The use of trail marking makes the task of orientation fairly simple and a decent pair of binoculars will make spotting your trail and land marks easier to see at a distance.
Why bother marking a trail if you are just trying to get back to civilization? You might need to go back to bring help to someone or to retrieve valuable equipment you had to leave behind or possibly leave a trail for someone following you. If rescue comes you would want them to know in which direction you had gone so that help can find you. Whatever your reasons for trail marking, go as easy on Mother Nature as you can.