In the hunt for new resources or interesting locations to build doom fortresses, many Minecraft players will wander absurd distances. It is quite possible to get lost in these travels, but with a little forethought it is easy to avoid wandering the earth for an eternity in search of your home base. This tutorial will focus on some of the easier ways of navigating Minecraft's landscapes.
Every world has a set spawn point where players are placed near when they first enter the game, and each time they die (see below about beds). The world has one spawn point, and all players spawn within a few blocks of that, but the exact location is randomized. (Formerly, single-player games had a specific spawn point, but now they use the same system as multi-player.) In multi-player, the area around the spawn points will be "protected", so that only server operators can build or destroy blocks there. Making a base too close to a multiplayer spawn area can also expose it to griefers, so in multi-player it's usually better to move some distance before settling in.
Each player can change their individual spawn point by sleeping in a bed, most often in their base. If the bed is removed, destroyed, or blocked, the new spawn point is lost, and the player will respawn near their world's original spawn point. A world's spawn point can be found easily using a Compass, but this will always point at the player's or world's original spawn point, not a bed location.
X, Y, and Z coordinates
If you press F3 (Fn+F3 for Mac users), you open up a very useful debug screen of info (press F3 again to close it), which includes your current coordinates in the world. These coordinates are interpreted as follows: All three coordinates are measured in "blocks", which are considered equivalent to meters of distance. X gives your distance east of the origin, and Z gives the distance south. Both of these can be negative, for positions west or north of the origin. The Y coordinate displays your altitude in meters, which cannot be negative (the world is floored with bedrock at level 0). Sea level is 63 or 64 (depending on your game version), and the spawn point will be within a few hundred blocks of the map origin (X and Z of 0). As of version 1.3.1, the debug screen now displays two Y positions: The Y position of your feet is the height of the top of the block you are standing on, while the other (formerly the only one reported) is 1.62 meters higher and gives the height of your eyes—that is, your screen shows the world from this height. Among the other information in the debug screen, the item "f" gives your facing, meaning which compass direction you are (most nearly) facing. A value of 0 means south, 1 west, 2 north, and 3 east.
The simplest way to avoid getting totally lost, is to write down the X and Z coordinates of your base. If you've gone far afield, you can always get home by pressing F3, comparing your current coordinates to those of your base, and heading in appropriate directions until the coordinates match.
This method of navigation is particularly important for exploring the Nether, as a compass does not work and maps are impaired. Write down the coordinates of your portal or Nether Base, and you can go exploring the Nether. Also if you find a Nether Fortress far from your base but want to go back to it, write down the coordinates of the fortress and you can go back to it later.
Minecraft has a well-defined set of directions, north south, east, and west. There are several ways to tell which way you are facing:
- The Sun and the Moon rise in the east and set in the west. Their paths are always the same, and they are fixed against the stars.
- The stars turn counterclockwise around the north pole, and clockwise around the south pole.
- Clouds always float west, and are visible above-ground during day and night.
- When using the debug screen, the line starting with 'f' gives your compass facing, including an angle in degrees.
Using Block Markings
Cobblestone, Moss Stone and Netherrack have markings that are easily identifiable. Because these blocks always orient themselves the same way when placed, it is possible to use them to know which way is north, even while underground or while in the Nether. as illustrated in this video. (Such markings may vary if you use a texture pack.)
Not all players will be content to build directly on the spawn point or even in the prime world where compasses work. Often, the spawn point is a fairly dull beach or desert, and players that desire a savage looking mountain valley or inside the Nether may end up building far from their spawn. In these cases, it's good to either mentally note or construct a series of landmarks to follow, especially if the path is long. The use of trail markers is far more resourceful and time efficient than building long roads. It's a good idea to place all trail markers in such a way so as you can always see two markers from the one you are standing at (the marker you came from, and the marker you are heading to). This prevents you from losing the trail. It is also advised to have your markers placed or designed in such a way that you can always know which direction leads to the origin of the trail. Here are some methods of marking your trail outdoors:
- Torches and other light-emitting blocks offer an easy method of making quick visible markers to follow, and they ward off monsters from spawning. They are most useful at night unless placed high or combined with other markers. Jack o'Lanterns also have a face which points in a single direction. You can place them so that the face always points toward "home".
- Signs are also useful. While they don't glow, you can place a torch to light them, and you can put useful information or ASCII arrows on the sign. Make sure that neighboring markers can be seen in both directions—if you plant a torch a distance downhill from the previous torch, the first torch may not be visible from the second's location.
- Blocks or short pillars of dyed wool: A single color or combination can be used to identify the destination (different towns, buildings, or whole biomes). Multiple colors can even show direction.
- Carve a simple arrow into the surrounding terrain and fill it with off-colored blocks such as filling a stone wall with dirt pointing in the direction home. If your home is near a hill or a cave entrance, also use off-colored blocks for its exterior where you can.
- A series of small sand towers at the peaks of hills: Sand is easily mined, often plentiful, and very visible in most terrain. Placing another block on the ground near the tower to create a line between the tower and block is an easy method of orienting the player in the right direction. Sand block markers can be read extremely quickly at a distance, making them a great choice for players dashing through the countryside at night who don't have time to stop and read signs. To prevent the blocks from falling due to gravity, dirt or sandstone, which is quickly craftable from sand, can form the foundation or inner layers.
- Some players prefer to construct fewer but taller pillars to be visible at a greater distance. These can be made of snow, sand, stone, dirt, or other brightly-colored or reflective blocks and then lined with torches or capped with lava or burning netherrack to create very visible landmarks.
- Gate markers consist of two blocks or towers placed next to each other with a one-block space between and an optional arch over the trail. The space between the blocks orients the player to the next gate. A torch or other marker can be placed on the side of one of the blocks to indicate the origin of the trail. It is usually best to build the markers out of something that stands out, like cobblestone or sandstone.
- A very quick way to make a tall pillar is to clean the leaves off one or more trees in the area of the landmark or perhaps along a route. No tools are required, and clearing the foliage can help to uncover the landmarks and create paths.
- Putting your base in a village that has towers or a desert temple will make it hard to miss at a distance.
Roads and Rails
If you decide to try and find a new place to build a house or a mine, a useful thing to do is to dig a two or three block wide trench as you move along. Once you find your new construction site, all you have to do is follow the trench back and forth between your mines/houses. Later in the game (or as you are digging, if you have the resources) you can fill in the trench to make a nice-looking pathway. Note that sand/sandstone or gravel look flashy but are non-renewable and fragile—for long roads, you're better off using cobblestone, smooth stone, or even wood. (Lightning can burn wood, but that's pretty rare, and doesn't happen at all in deserts.)
It would also be a good idea to place torches along the pathway to make night travel safer. You could even place fences beside your road for a more appealing look and to fend off monsters. As you build more things, you can create forks in your road along with signs to direct you to where you want to go.
Of course, once you have a road, you may want to put down rails! Conversely, a railway also doubles as a road!
Maps are a viable supplement or replacement for trail markers for mid-range journeys. Maps cost a compass and a lot of paper, so you will need a little redstone and iron plus some sugar cane for this. Activate your empty map midway between the two points you want to connect. One location will be at one edge, the other on the other side, depending on the distance.
As of version 1.4, maps will not be exactly centered on where they are activated, because they snap to a grid. They will also start off with a very small scale, and need to be zoomed out to a reasonable scale after activation, but before you start making copies. Each zoom level takes 8 more paper (at a crafting table), and doubles the map scale, but also clears any current contents. However, the map will remain centered roughly where the empty map was activated. It takes 3 zooms to match the scale of the pre-1.4 maps; the fourth zoom will reach the maximum scale of one chunk per pixel. You can place a framed copy of each map in your base to get a green marker for the location (at least when the frame's chunk is loaded).
You may want to note or create a large structure that is visible on the map at each location. Construct it out of a material that will stand out; colored wool, cobblestone, and moss stone all contrast against snow (unless they get re-covered with snow), and all but moss stone against trees and grass. (Prior to 1.7, all colors of wool would show stone-gray on the map, but as of 1.7.2 this is no longer an issue.) Some natural structures that stand out include Villages, stone "shields", and large lakes, rivers, or lava pools.
You may also wish to make a map room of the local (or not-so-local) area. Doing so will give you an insight into the surrounding area as well as showing any points of interest such as above ground lava pools and ravines, or even your own larger constructions.
A dirt tower covered in Lava.
Natural caverns are fairly easy to get lost in without a little forethought. Depending on a player's mining style, artificial mines might be fairly disorienting as well! Here are some tips for getting around. Remember that digging your way to the surface is usually possible, but may be hazardous in its own right (water or lava being the major hazard).
There are a variety of markers you can leave behind to make trails, with a somewhat different selection being useful underground.
- Mushrooms: Relatively easy to acquire if you're near a swamp biome, quick to harvest and will attach to nearly any block. Space them close enough together so the last one is still visible behind you when you go to place the next. With red and brown mushrooms, you can have two separate trails that are easy to retrace. When you're done with them, you might try some mushroom stew.
- Torches: You can place all your torches on the right side of the cave when you enter a new passage. This allows you to find your way back to the entrance simply by keeping the torches on your left. When encountering multiple caverns, also known as a fork, put two torches at the exit to indicate the correct way to exit the cavern. You can also place torches to point towards the exit. This method has its limits, as that torches restricted to the right side probably won't provide sufficient light to completely prevent mobs from spawning.
- Torches placed on the side of a block can be used to indicate direction. Torches placed on the faces of blocks that are in front of you on your outward journey will point back toward the exit on your return journey.
- You can put additional torches on the floor in caves and the wider passageways, and in the middle of non-exit walls.
- If you "float" a block in the middle of the cavern and cover it in torches, that will light a wide area, and the floating block is easily distinguishable from the marker torches.
- If a cave loops back on itself at some point, there can be some confusion as to the shortest way out—you may need some of the other markers listed below.
- Combining this with the "right hand against the wall" rule will help you methodically explore. Always go into the rightmost dark area at intersections. Imagine your right hand running along the wall.
- Signs at intersections, often with "ASCII arrows", such as --> or ^, to indicate the heading. Keep in mind that you will need to be able to see these signposts the most on your way back out of the cavern, so when placing them, it is important to position them where they will be easily visible from the other direction. Signs are reliable (lava notwithstanding) and fairly cheap (6 wooden planks and 1 stick produces 3 signs). Unlike most blocks, however, they only stack up to sixteen (16). This may suffice for small cavern groups; for larger cave systems, you can bring a stack of wood and a crafting table to make signs as you go. (The table can be carried with you after each use.) Normally you'll want to carry logs, but in abandoned mineshafts, planks are handy and common.
- Cobblestone arrows at each intersection, pointing back towards the passage you just came from. A torch can be placed on the block at the tip of the arrow to ensure that the arrow is easy to spot. This method has the advantage of utilizing a resource (cobblestone) that is common in caverns and easily carried in bulk, making it suitable for aiding in the exploration of even the most massive caverns. These arrows can be placed on walls or embedded into the floor, and can point in any direction. Similarly to the signpost method, cobblestone arrows should be placed in locations that are easily visible on the way back out of the cavern.
- Cobblestone can also be used for walls or barricades to block off dead-ends or previously explored cavern branches to find exits more quickly. This along with the "right-side" torch method work very well hand-in-hand and can guarantee a less confusing exit strategy for players in a hurry to end their cavern run.
- In otherwise "cleaned-up" caverns or mineshafts, dead-ends that have already been cleared out, can be marked with a block of dirt.
- Redstone: If you're not using it for other things, you can make use it for several kinds of trail.
- Lines and arrows from spare redstone dust.
- Redstone torches within sight of each other are distinctive. Note that redstone torches do not provide enough light to stop monster spawning, but you won't confuse them with regular torches.
- Combining the above gives you trails of lit redstone dust, up to 15 long per torch. These will fade as they stretch away from the torch, but you can use that as a directional hint.
- Minecart tracks can also be used to mark trails. Of course, if you've laid down an actual track, it's easy to follow or ride that to either end.
- Jack-o-lanterns can be placed at intersections, with the face pointing towards the exit. This doubles as a light source and a direction out. Jack-o-lanterns are easy to acquire once you start a pumpkin farm, and give off more light than a torch. In cases where there is one path on top of the other one, place the jack-o-lantern higher (using piles of gravel or some other temporary block to place it on top of) to indicate the exit is the upper path. Make sure to place them at the middle of the intersecting paths, with the pumpkin easy to see from both directions.
- If you've been to the Nether, netherrack is conspicuous. It is also very quick to mine, and doesn't naturally appear in the Overworld. When going back, you can set them alight, recovering torches and marking explored paths.
- Wool is versatile and stackable, and comes in a variety of colors. Use different colors for different symbols, e.g., "red" for "explored branch", or a combo of "white" and "yellow" to form an exit sign arrow. Beware that wool is flammable, so be careful around lava. You can also use different colors to mark particular trails. Even underground you can get get string from spiders or cobwebs, and craft that into wool. You can also get at least two, possibly three primary dyes, which you can use and combine to make your wool more conspicuous: lapis lazuli from (moderately deep) ore, and bone meal from skeletons. A large waterfall from the surface may also provide ink sacs from squid. In addition, flowers can be found (very rarely) in caves.
- A short, distinctive stack of blocks with two torches: one on top to make the stack stand out from a distance, and one on the side of the stack that points away from the exit: this torch will be clearly visible when you are walking towards the exit. A cobblestone block on top of a dirt block stands out and is quick and cheap to make. Marker beacons like these are useful for lighting up larger caves and in the middle of a large junction.
- If you have a large amount of string, you can create a trail with it on the ground that leads back to where you came from. This can be very effective in abandoned mineshafts as there will be plenty of cobwebs to harvest for this. The only major downside is that the string can be difficult to see, even in a well lit area.
- While it will not help you in navigating the cave itself, it may be wise to bring a map with you into a large cave, should you get lost and need to dig your way out. Note that most caves occupy less area horizontally than they might seem, but interconnected caves and abandoned mineshafts can sprawl over huge distances. You might well map some new surface as you explore underground, but the cave itself will not be mapped.
- A good mining practice is to fully explore and light a cave system before beginning to mine out any resources. It is extremely dangerous to stop and mine in a dark cave system, and you can lose your loot if you are killed. Check for "broken bridges" such as gravel masses or 2-block drops. If monsters can come out of them, you may want to change that; once verified safe, you can save the blocked-off areas for later.
- As part of exploration, try to "clean up" the area, taking off leftover blocks, filling small pits, and generally smoothing things out. In abandoned mineshafts, clear out most of the fence-and-plank "supports" as you "claim" an area. This will improve both visibility and mobility, cutting down on unpleasant surprises.
- Some water flows come from openings in the seafloor. With care (and perhaps a door or some ladders), you can swim up these and mark the entrance with a jack-o-lantern, which will generally be visible from the sea surface. Such openings are also a quick way to get back to the surface if you've gotten lost. With a bit more effort, you can seal the opening altogether, perhaps leaving a shaft with ladders for your own use. (Remember that ladders and signs block water.)
- When finished exploring a cave, you can make your own exit—just dig upwards to the surface in a staircase fashion, watching for drips and being careful not to dig the block just above you. This is especially useful for when you are lost and have not used any of the other plans. When digging a staircase out of a cave, it can be useful to check your map to figure out where you will, or want to, emerge. Coming out into the seabed can be tricky, especially if your torches get washed away.
- To mark cave entrances and other important, but hard to notice places on your map: clone your map, then put it in an item frame. You can then find the place by the green marker.
If you travel through water with a boat a lot, you may very well find yourself lost from home. There are a few ways to travel safely above and below water. Maps are very useful here. You can also build towers from the seafloor to well above the surface, and top the towers with a torch or Jack o'Lantern. Sugar cane, glass panes, or iron bars will all provide an air pocket along the height of the tower, and glass blocks or panes will also carry light into the depths. Advanced players might use Glowstone or burning Netherrack for the lights.
If you have lily pads (found in rivers), you can use them to create small islands for navigation or minibases. You'll need a bucket of lava for this—place the pad, then from as far as you can reach, dump the lava on top of the pad. The lava will form an island. At this point, you have a blazing landmark in the ocean. If you want to use the island for other stuff, you'll need to reclaim the lava source with your bucket, and wait for the flowing lava to cool. If you can't manage to grab the lava from the boat, you may be able to quickly jump onto the burning island (this will hurt and set you afire), bucket the lava source, and jump off into the water to put your flames out. Make sure you're at full health and fully fed before you try this! (You can use the same method to dump water on the lava to cool it more quickly.) Once the lava is gone, you'll have a nice small island, big enough for a chest, crafting table, and even a bed. (The new island may or may not show on your map.) Remember to stick a torch or Jack o'Lantern on it to prevent monster spawning.
Glowstone and jack-o-lanterns can also be placed under the water, on the seafloor. The jack-o-lantern can also be oriented to show the direction home, or to indicate an opening in the seafloor (that is, leading to caves).