Tracking Humans

Human tracks can be found just about anywhere. People leave tracks wherever they go - sandy trails, deep forests, grassy meadows, even on linoleum floors indoors. With more and more people seeking recreation in the wilderness, it is not surprising that they sometimes wander off trails and become lost or turned around. This can lead to some interesting tracking. What does a tracker look for when tracking humans? The following pictures will give you a taste of a few of the clues a tracker will find.

For more on tracking humans, see the Tracking Criminals page.

Many human tracks on a trail at Walker Creek Ranch, Petaluma, CA.

How does a tracker make sense out of all this? First, you have to know the tracks of the person you're trying to find. You may have to go back to their campsite to see if you can find some of their tracks around, or visit a place you know the person was. By eliminating other tracks, you should be able to narrow down the search to the correct one.
Don't expect to find perfect tracks all the time. Prints like this are rare. If you find enough detail in the print to positively identify it, it is called a signature print. Heel marks are one of the signs to look for. As you take a step, notice that the heel comes down first and bears all the weight. This leaves a nice impression. Sometimes, the toe will not leave much of a print.

Perfect heel print.

Boot tracks in concrete at Humboldt Redwoods State Park, California.

Human tracks really are everywhere, as you'll notice once you become familiar with what to look for. These are the tracks of the workers who laid this asphalt.
When they are relaxing, people put their feet up on things, like this fire ring at a campground. The fire ring was hot and melted the shoe, leaving a nice clear track of the person who got a hot foot!

Shoe print from melted shoe on a hot fire ring at Burlington Campground, Humboldt Redwoods State Park, California.

Track on a log.

People will climb over or go under obstructions on trails. This person climbed over a log and left marks where the shoe rubbed on the wood. You can see the pattern on the bottom of the shoe in this wood.
When walking uphill, people tend to dig their toes in a little more. In this photo, you can see where gravel was scraped away and some loose material was kicked back as the toe of this boot dug in. The person was travelling from left to right in the photo. You can also see some of the gravel pressed into the ground from the weight of being stepped on. If you were to look closer still, you would find some broken twigs. The crumbled leaves are from an older track.

Human toe dig.

Dirt transfer - a sign to look for.

As you walk, your shoes pick up material from the ground. When you step from one surface to another (example: from sand to rock), some of this material is carried onto the new surface by your shoes. In this case, someone was walking on sand, then stepped on the piece of driftwood. The sand that was transferred left a pattern from their shoe. This sign is called "transfer."
Are tracks only found in dirt? No. Tracks can be anywhere. If you step on a piece of paper, you leave a track on it. If you step on an aluminum can, you leave a mark on it. If you control the source of light, you can see these hidden tracks. In a dark room, hold a flashlight at a very low angle to the object you are examining. You should be able to see the dust transfer on the object. In the photo, it is on top of the gold lettering, right above the F in "draft." See the 4 or 5 dust marks? They form part of the pattern from the bottom of a shoe.

This is also the way to see tracks on linoleum floors. Turn off the lights and use a flashlight to shine light on the floor at a very low angle. This will make the tracks stand out. Experiment and see what you can find.

A track on an aluminum can? Look closely. It is there.

Shoe track on a linoleum floor.

This shoe print was found on a dusty linoleum floor. With the proper light angle, it is not difficult to find tracks on such surfaces. You may have to darken the room and use a flashlight to get the proper light angle, but smooth surfaces like this can yield tracks.
This very brief overview should give you an idea of the many places there are to look for human tracks. This hasn't even begun to scratch the surface of the many signs there are to look for. If this has made you want to learn more, check back here as I add more to this page. Also, see the SAR page for an explanation of how tracking is used in search and rescue.

Also see Tracking Criminals for a true experience tracking some burglars.

Find posters, greeting cards, postage stamps and more in my new store.

Now available: "Animals Don't Cover Their Tracks - An Introduction to Animal Tracking" on CD! (Version 3.0) New drawings, more species, more photos, more extensive sections on tracking humans, more detailed directions for plaster casting, mystery tracks section, tracking stories section, and more. The CD features over 100 species, including special bonus sections with the tracks of some African and Australian animals. A large section on tracking lost people for search and rescue is included, with over four pages of photos showing the details of tracks and signs people leave. Easy to use format. This web site is limited by bandwidth, but the CD-ROM is not. The CD is available in my online store at: www.dirt-time.com  Works with Mac or PC. Happy tracking!!

What else can you find in the nature store? Beartracker's animal tracks coloring book, T-shirts, sweatshirts, journals, book bags, toddler and infant apparel, mouse pads, posters, postcards, coffee mugs, travel mugs, clocks, Frisbees, bumper stickers, hats, stickers, and many more items. All with tracks or paw  prints, or nature scenes. Custom products are available. If you don't see the track you want on the product you want, email me and I can probably create it. Proceeds from all sales go to pay the monthly fees for this web site. You can help support this site as well as get great tracking products! Thank you!

 

Find other tracking products: www.zazzle.com/tracker8459*

 

Also visit these fine stores for more products of interest:

NDN Pride shop - For Indian Pride items for all tribes. Custom items available on request.

ASL Signs of Love - For anyone who uses or is learning ASL, American Sign Language. Custom name items and more are available here.

Sales from all stores give commissions to Beartracker's Animal Tracks Den, which helps keep this site online as a free service. We are celebrating ten years online this year!

 

 

 

prints

Got a tracking story? E-mail me and tell me about it.

tracker777@hotmail.com

You are visitor number:

Back to the Animal Tracks Den

Copyright 1997-2009. Text and photos by Kim A. Cabrera

prints

Copyright 1999-2009. Kim A. Cabrera - Desert Moon Design

Page updated: Thursday, December 18, 2008.