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The current cave I'm working on is becoming unwieldy and disorienting. It's becoming harder and harder for me to keep bearings of where I am and what is the fastest way to my shelter. I'm looking for a cost effective way to fix this.

This is mainly due to my policy of digging through all earth and gravel in mines. It may be an excellent way to find coal and iron veins (not to forget openings to further areas) at zero cost, but it makes areas hard to navigate fast.

So far the only idea I have is to get going with signs:

┌───────────────┐ ┌───────────────┐ ┌───────────────┐
│     CAVE 1    │ │   SHELTER 1   │ │ SAFETY  FIRST │
│    DEPTH 15   │ │               │ │  Be advised:  │
│ <== Shelter 1 │ │  Cave 1 down  │ │ Sea above the │
│  Workshop ==> │ │ mind the lava │ │     cave      │
└───────────────┘ └───────────────┘ └───────────────┘

I love this idea - which is why signs are quite costly to make (~1½ log each):

I could use a compass, but that's not very good when you are in a hurry. Besides, the cave extends below the spawn point. Also, I still have no Redstone to work with.

I could also make additional ways up, but this costs even more between torches and doors (to keep the ground level mob outside) and opens flooding risks (see sign 3).

What is, then, a good, cost effective way to help orientation in Minecraft caves?

Here's, to give you an idea of my progress, my full inventory as of a few game days ago:

384 earth, 1 cactus, 6 tree, 2 glass, 98 sand, 42 coal, 3 gold ore, 2 iron picks, 35 wood, 2 gunpowder, 918 gravel, 107 lamps, 540 stone, 24 arrows, 29 feathers, 6 gunpowder, 73 flint, 16 iron ingots, 6 eggs, 5 iron ore, 3 cloth, 4 leather, 1 sign, 1 stone sword, 5 sticks.

In the background, Shelter 1. :)

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Nice Signs! You can get 8 signs from 13 logs, making each sign worth 1.625 logs. – alexanderpas Sep 26 '10 at 19:30
Hence why I wrote ~1½, @alex :) – badp Sep 26 '10 at 19:43
+1 just for the mouse over on the image. xD – Tom Wijsman Oct 9 '10 at 23:34
Why all the gravel?! – fredley May 6 '11 at 11:57
@fredley I like clearing out all gravel and dirt, as it tends to unearth ores cheaply. – badp May 6 '11 at 12:10
up vote 31 down vote accepted

Place redstone torches on north walls. Redstone is quite easy to find deep underground and not required for much else.

Punch the ground directly beneath you. The break pattern is always the same relative to north.

Cheaper than torches, inlay the right-hand side of the floor with a dirt block every three squares. Build wide main corridors which you can follow back when you find one.

Grow a tree farm. Use the wood to make plenty of signs.

Design each area with its own character, so you can recognise them. Identical corridors are a good way to get lost. Place occasional markers, such as sand or wood.

Dig arrows into the wall pointing toward the nearest familiar spot. You can fill the arrow with dirt for extra visibility.

Create staircases upward occasionally. At the top, use excess stone to build a hut with a door and an observation tower. Use this to travel back to your shelter by aboveground when completely lost. Style your observation towers differently to use them as landmarks and build cobblestone roads between them.

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That redstone idea novel, but more expensive than say putting 2 regular torches side by side on North walls. – MBraedley Nov 13 '10 at 17:57
To find North, look for the L on Cobblestone, furnace tops or Mossy Cobblestone textures. This only works with the default graphics pack or ones that specifically retain these features. – Macha Jan 14 '11 at 22:03

One thing I do is only put torches on the right hand side when exploring. Then to find my way back I keep the torches on my left. If a cave is big enough to need more than one torch I put the extra ones on the floor.

I also occasionally replace stone with cobblestones if I'm at a place where the correct way back is difficult to spot.

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I do this too, although I use the cobble stone to tell me that the cave leads to a dead end. – Ape-inago Nov 29 '10 at 20:09

I find that most cave offshoots have very little use after a single visit so I tend to wall them off with cobblestones after I explore an offshoot to it's maximum potential. This way I can easily tell where I've been and it makes going up and down from my base to my current dig site in the caves much less of a hassle.

I used to clear caves of torches before I walled them off, but then I realized that it's easier to tell if I've already been in a cave if I accidentally dig into it from another direction if I leave the torches.

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Oh that is perfect! No more running around in underground circles for me. – Christopher May 4 '11 at 13:58

A cheaper way than the signs is to make paintings, these are 9sticks(0.5625 wood) and 1 wool. Put then up on the way you should take to get back. Use signs or torches if you need directions when you're not on the 'main path'.

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What I'd suggest is to head over to minecraft WIKI and get yourself a mapper (makes a map of the world in JPG or PNG i.e.). Use it to keep track of where you might be. This is best for close-to-surface and linear digging.

I tend to have one entrance, and then mine in a linear way, spiraling down. This is awesome, since you can't get lost. Minecart rails with a powered cart to transport rock/stone/minerals up when my inventory is full. (System found here

If you go up-down from ground level, build a 3-8block high tower and place some torches. A mapper will make it easy to find.

So basicly, my way is to have one above-ground entrance and use a compass or mapper to find my way between.

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The mapper is kinda akin to cheating :/ – badp Sep 27 '10 at 5:41
Humans don't make maps when they explore caves in the real world? ;-) (hint - they do!) – Shaderach Sep 27 '10 at 12:32
I found that to be cheating too. so i started hand drawing maps with symbols akin to how middle earth is draw in the lord of the rings maps. I was thinking about using but it was overkill. – Ape-inago Nov 29 '10 at 20:14

Great ideas here, I thought I'd add a couple of my own.

  • Color coded routes: after finding a monster spawner, I mined all the mossy stone and dropped one at each intersection on my way back to the main mine shaft. That's the Green Tunnel, and I know it leads to the monster spawner (& likely a chest full of less valuable stone that I might still want someday).

  • A torch on top of a cobblestone/sand/dirt block (provided you don't use that in non-marker situations) is also distinctive.

  • 2 torches to either side of a tunnel entrance

  • plant a cactus/sugar cane (they grow just dandy underground)

The idea is just that you can see whatever the marker is from the previous marker, if it's a confusing cavern.

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Once I have found something, like a monster spawner, I write down the co-ordinates then go back to my base. From there, I dig a tunnel directly to the place I want to be.

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This wouldn't work due to it being Minecraft Alpha. – DatEpicCoderGuyWhoPrograms Aug 4 '14 at 13:56

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