Lost Hikers, Backpackers Really Do Walk in Circles

"The significance of the experiment is that it shows how important senses are for navigating," Sanberg said. "It's showing scientifically what we had known anecdotally."

When flying into clouds, pilots who think they're flying straight can get into trouble quickly if they don't rely on navigational instruments, said Sanberg, a flight instructor.

"Gravity and your inner ear may not be telling you the right information," Sanberg said.

When in the wilderness, bring a compass or GPS. "It's important to realize how difficult it is to follow a certain course in a terrain that you don't know," Souman said.

More information

The American Red Cross has hiking safety tips.

SOURCES: Jan Souman, Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics, Tubingen, Germany; Paul Sanberg, Ph.D., D.Sc., professor, neurosurgery, and director, University of South Florida Center for Aging and Brain Repair, Tampa, Fla.; Aug. 20, 2009, Current Biology, online

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