In the hunt for new resources or interesting places, many Minecraft players wander absurd distances. It is easy to get lost, but a little forethought makes it easy to avoid wandering for an eternity in search of the home base. This tutorial focuses 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 is "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 respawns near their world's original spawn point. A world's spawn point can be found easily using a compass, but this always points at the player's or world's original spawn point, not a bed location.
X, Y, and Z coordinates
If the player presses F3, the game opens up a very useful debug screen of info (press F3 again to close it), which includes the player's 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 the altitude in meters, which cannot be negative (the world is floored with bedrock at level 0). Sea level is 63, 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 the base. If they have gone far afield, they can always get home by pressing F3, comparing the current coordinates to those of the 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 the portal or Nether base, and the player can go exploring the Nether. Also, if the player find a nether fortress far from the base, but want to go back to it, write down the coordinates of the fortress and the player can go back to it later.
The best way to explore without a compass is to go in only one direction, then press F3 and check whether it's north, south, east or west[Java and Legacy Console editions only]. Then when the player finish exploring, just turn around and go back.
Minecraft has a well-defined set of directions, north, south, east, and west. There are several ways to tell which way the player 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[Java Edition only], the line starting with 'f' gives the player's compass facing, including an angle in degrees.
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 players can always see two markers from the one they are standing at, that is the marker they came from, and the marker they are heading to. This prevents them from losing the trail. It is also advised to have the markers placed or designed in such a way that the player can always know which direction leads to the origin of the trail. Here are some methods of marking the 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. The player can place them so that the face always points toward "home".
- Signs are also useful. While they don't glow, torches illuminate them, and the player can write useful information or ASCII arrows on the sign. Ensure that neighboring markers can be seen in both directions, if the player 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 the home is near a hill or a cave entrance, use off-colored blocks for its exterior where practical.
- 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, then lined with torches or capped with lava or burning netherrack.
- 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 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 the base in a village that has towers or a desert temple makes it hard to miss at a distance.
- Due to the way they are made, grass paths make an ideal navigation block for marking a trail behind the player when exploring, requiring only a shovel.
Roads and Rails
If the player decides 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 the player move along. Once they find their new construction site, all they have to do is follow the trench back and forth between the mines or houses. Later in the game or as the player are digging, if they have the resources, they 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, the player are better off using cobblestone, stone, or even planks. Note that lightning can burn planks, 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. The player could even place fences beside the road for a more appealing look and to fend off monsters. As the player build more things, they can create forks in the road along with signs to direct them to where they want to go.
Of course, once the player have a road, they may want to put down rails. 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 the player need a little redstone and iron, plus some sugar cane for this. Activate the empty map midway between the two points they want to connect. One location will be at one edge, the other on the other side, depending on the distance.
Maps are not exactly centered on where they are activated, because they snap to a grid. They also start off with a very small scale, and need to be zoomed out to a reasonable scale after activation, but before the player start making copies. Each zoom level takes 1 paper in a cartography 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 reaches the maximum scale of one chunk per pixel. The player can place a framed copy of each map in the base to get a green marker for the location (at least when the frame's chunk is loaded).
The player 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 stands out; colored wool, cobblestone, and mossy cobblestone all contrast against snow unless they get re-covered with snow, and all, but mossy cobblestone against trees and grass. Some natural structures that stand out include villages, stone "shields", and large lakes, rivers, or lava pools. Campfire can produce smoke, which can go and be seen from distance and smoke height can be increased by placing hay bales underneath campfire.
The player may also wish to make a map room of the local or not-so-local area. Doing so gives the player insight into the surrounding area, as well as showing any points of interest such as above ground lava pools and ravines, or even their 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 the way to the surface is usually possible, but may be hazardous in its own right, including water and lava that being the major hazard.
There are a variety of markers the player can leave behind to make trails, with a somewhat different selection being useful underground.
- Mushrooms: Relatively easy to acquire if the player are 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 the player when they go to place the next. With red and brown mushrooms, the player can have two separate trails that are easy to retrace. When the player are done with them, the player might try some mushroom stew.
- Torches: The player can place all the torches on the right side of the cave when they enter a new passage. This allows them to find their way back to the entrance simply by keeping the torches on the 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. They can also place torches to point towards the exit. This method has its limits, as 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 the player on the outward journey point back toward the exit on the return journey.
- Players can put additional torches on the floor in caves and the wider passageways, and in the middle of non-exit walls.
- If the player "floats" a block in the middle of the cavern and cover it in torches, it lights 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, the player may need some of the other markers listed below.
- Combining the previous methods with the "right hand against the wall" rule helps the player methodically explore: Always go into the rightmost dark area at intersections. Imagine the right hand running along the wall.
- Signs at intersections, often with "ASCII arrows", such as --> or ^, to indicate the heading. Keep in mind that the player need to be able to see these signposts the most on their way back out of the cavern, so when placing them, it is important to position them where they are easily visible from the other direction. Signs are reliable (lava notwithstanding) and fairly cheap (6 planks of the same type and 1 stick produces 3 signs). Unlike most blocks, however, they only stack up to sixteen. This may suffice for small cavern groups; for larger cave systems, the player can bring a stack of planks and a crafting table to make signs as the player go. Also, the table can be carried with themselves after each use. Normally the player will want to carry logs, but in abandoned mineshafts, planks are handy and common.
- Magenta glazed terracotta, which have arrows on all sides.
- Cobblestone arrows at each intersection, pointing back towards the passage the player 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 the player are not using it for other things, the player can use it for several kinds of trail marking.
- 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 the player won't confuse them with regular torches.
- Combining the above gives the player trails of lit redstone dust, up to 15 long per torch. These fade as they stretch away from the torch, but the player can use that as a directional hint.
- Minecart tracks can also be used to mark trails. Of course, if the player have 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 the player has started 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 the player have 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, the player 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. The player can also use different colors to mark particular trails. Even underground the player can get string from spiders or cobwebs, and craft that into wool. The player can also get at least two, possibly three primary dyes, which can be used and combine to make the wool more conspicuous: blue dye from moderately deep ore or lily of the valley, 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 the player 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 the player have a large amount of string, they can create a trail with it on the ground that leads back to where the player came from. This can be very effective in abandoned mineshafts as there are 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 players in navigating the cave itself, it may be wise to bring a map with them into a large cave, should they have get lost and need to dig their 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. The player might well map some new surface as the player 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 the player can loose their loot if they are killed. Check for "broken bridges" such as gravel masses or 2-block drops. If monsters can come out of them, they may want to change that; once verified safe, they 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 the player "claims" an area. This improves 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), than players can swim up these and mark the entrance with a jack o'lantern, which are generally visible from the sea surface. Such openings are also a quick way to get back to the surface if the player have gotten lost. With a bit more effort, players can seal the opening altogether, perhaps leaving a shaft with ladders for their own use. Note that that ladders and signs block water.
- When finished exploring a cave, they can make their 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 them. This is especially useful for when the player 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 the map to figure out where they will, or want to, emerge. Coming out into the seabed can be tricky, especially if the torches get washed away. If players are more experienced, digging straight up is much quicker. Just place a torch below the player to brake any sand or gravel and dig up. When the players cannot mine due to height anymore, quickly jump and place blocks below their feet until they are in a two block high gap. Rinse and repeat until they are on the surface. If they break a lava pool floor, just cover it quickly with a block and travel a bit horizontally before continuing.
- To mark cave entrances and other important, but hard to notice places on the map: clone the map, then put it in an item frame. They can then find the place by the green marker.
- If they have built their home base at or near the world spawn point, a compass will be able to point to the home once they have escaped from a cavern. If they have built their home base far away from the world spawn, then it might not be a bad idea to leave a trail of some kind in between the world spawn and the house so that this method can still be used in a pinch.
If the player travels through water with a boat often, they may very well find themselves lost and unable to re-locate their base. There are a few ways to travel safely above and below water. Maps are very useful here. The player 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, and iron bars all provide an air pocket along the height of the tower, and glass blocks or panes also carry light into the depths. Advanced players might use glowstone or burning netherrack for the lights.
If the player have lily pads (found in swamps), they can use them to create small islands for navigation or minibases. They will need a bucket of lava for this—place the lily pad, then, from as far as the player can reach, dump the lava on top of the pad. The lava will form an island. At this point, they have a blazing landmark in the ocean. If the player wants to use the island for other activities, they will need to reclaim the lava source with their bucket and wait for the flowing lava to cool. If the player is unable to grab the lava from the boat, they may be able to quickly jump onto the burning island, but this will hurt and set the player on fire. They would then have to bucket the lava source and jump off into the water to put your flames out. One should make sure they are at full health and fully fed before making such an attempt. The player can use the same method to dump water on the lava to cool it more quickly. Once the lava is gone, they will have a nice small island, big enough for a chest, crafting table, and even a bed. Note that the new island may or may not show on the 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).
Also, the player can consider shaping the waterways, adding canals, and putting together a light house if they have a lot of water around their base. That way, the player will be able to quickly move around and navigation will be easy from a moderate distance because of the lighthouse.
Many blocks are placed at a fixed orientation. Knowing this, it is possible to use the textures on the top faces of the blocks to orientate oneself without a compass. Note that actual blocks may vary with resource packs.
|Brick||A solid mortar line is on the south side.|
|Cake||Cake contains four 2×2 squares, three of which are toward the southeast corner.|
|Clay||The northwest corner of the top of a clay block has a pixel noticeably darker than the other three corners.|
|Cobblestone||Cobblestone contains an "L" whose arms orient northwest.|
|Crafting Table||A crafting table contains two sides which have one tool, these orient south and east.|
|Fence||A fence post has a 4-pixel long brown strip on top; this strip toward the north side.|
|Furnace||This texture is like cobblestone. It contains an "L" whose arms orient northeast.|
|Glass||One corner is entirely white; this points northwest.|
|Glowstone||Glowstone contains one darkened L-shaped corner which orients Southeast. Note that glowstone is an inefficient choice for orienting yourself, since it does not return its full value when broken unless broken with a Silk Touch enchanted tool.|
|Gravel||One corner contains a light pixel surrounded by three darker pixels; this is northwest.|
|Jukebox||The slot is always directed from north to south.|
|Lapis Lazuli Block||One corner consists of three dark blue pixels; this is southeast.|
|Lever||Levers in the OFF position always point either east or south.|
|Ore (coal, diamond, iron, gold, redstone)||This applies to all ores except lapis lazuli and emerald ores. The largest vein of ore is toward the southeast corner.|
|Ore blocks (diamond, iron, gold)||Diamond blocks contain one corner which is darkened, this orients Southeast.|
|Rail||An individually placed rail will orient north-south. When one is placed in the middle of four others, it will connect south and east.|
|Mossy Cobblestone||One corner is a 2x2 square of lighter pixels; this is northwest.|
|Obsidian||Obsidian blocks contain one string of 3 diagonal light pixels. This orients north.|
|Redstone||Redstone wire connected in all four directions contains two single dots on two separate ends, these orient north and west.|
|Sandstone||Sandstone is hard to distinguish, but it contains one lightly colored square. This orients north.|
|Snow||Snow contains one darkened edge, this orients east.|
|Snow Block||Snow blocks, like snow, contain one darkened edge which orients east.|
|Soul Sand||Soul sand is described as having three faces on it, the bottoms of which face south.|
|Stone Bricks||Stone brick blocks or slabs have a shorter crack (the pointy part of the "T") that orients south.|
|Stone Pressure Plate||Stone pressure plates contain a lightly colored 2×2 square which orients south.|
|Smooth Stone Slab||This also contains a lightened 2×2 square which orients south.|
|Sunflower||Sunflowers always face east.|
|Oak Log||Oak contains one lightened square which is oriented west.|
|Oak Planks texture (planks, stairs, bookshelves)||Planks contain east-west striations; a darker pixel is in the southeast corner.|
|Pumpkins||The stem on top of pumpkins always points northeast.|