My hiking experience has almost entirely been in heavily forested mountains, where it's just as impossible to go in a circle as it is to go in a straight line. In mountains, topographic features are what matter to navigation.
Still, it's easy to get disoriented in mountains, especially when you're a tiny little ant on the feature and it's too large to use it to orient yourself. The reported finding, in keeping with long anecdotal experience, is one more feature of human behavior to watch for when navigating without the crutch of a GPS.
Well-known advice bears repeating:
“Your job as the lost person is to sit down,” [Carroll M. Ware, a licensed guide in Maine,] said. “By moving you make everybody’s job more difficult.”This is good advice even if you're still oriented to the local features. It's very easy to over-exert, even if you don't panic, and make a little trouble into a lot of trouble.