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

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!

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

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.

                    toe dig.

                    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.

                    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.

Visit Beartracker's Nature Store online store at:  Happy tracking!!

What else can you find in the nature store? Beartracker's 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!


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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.

Get Every Child Outdoors (Get E.C.O.) - My shop dedicated to nature and getting kids interested in nature and the outdoors.

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!





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Copyright 1997, 2018. Text and photos by Kim A. Cabrera


Copyright 1999, 2018. Kim A. Cabrera - Desert Moon Design

Updated: March 25, 2018.