Trail of Bread Crumbs

Character leaves a trail of things behind, ŕ la "Hansel and Gretel".

Sometimes, as in the aforementioned tale, the trail is left to find one's way back. Other times, it's used by someone else to follow them. This is usually to represent a character's resourcefulness either as a tracker, or as a planner for when/if the need to backtrack is found.

Bread Crumbs need not be consumable or even material, sometimes the trail is one of foot prints, golden twine, even an aroma of a special perfume. It, however, is usually not permanent, capable of being destroyed or tampered with by outside forces, such as wild birds or trickster-like beings, although even this is not the one rule.


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  • There was an advertisement in the United States not too long ago where some kids in a city left a trail of food behind them. After the food disappeared, they discovered their location with some kind of GPS device.

    Anime and Manga 
  • In Chapter 498 of Naruto, we learn that Kushina was kidnapped, she left a trail of her hair to for some one to follow. Minato was the only one who spotted the trail, which led to their eventual Rescue Romance.
    • Also, a few chapters earlier, it was deliberately invoked by Kabuto, who left a trail of dead bodies for the Konoha-tracker-nins all the way to Madara's base, leaving both the trackers and the readers confused as to his true loyalties.
  • Shoulder-a-Coffin Kuro has an example of a child using the food trail type to keep from getting lost in a forest. The main characters, themselves lost and trying to find their way to the girl's village, are decidedly dejected because they are certain that animals have already eaten the crumbs.
  • In YuYu Hakusho, Kurama uses Lamp Weeds to mark his trail.
  • One episode of Pokémon has the Team Rocket capture all the Pokemon in a gathering, including Ash's and his friend's, they were tracked down by following trail of ink shot by Misty's Horsea on the road.
  • In the first appearance of Naga in the Slayers OVA, Lina and Naga have to navigate a maze and Lina marks their trail with chalk marks so they can find their way out. Then she learns that Naga thought it was just graffiti and wiped the marks off.
  • In Excel Saga, Hyatt uses a trail of medicine to lead Excel to her kidnappers. Unfortunately, birds then start eating the pills... and promptly die. Excel then follows the trail of dead birds back to Hyatt.
  • In the final episode of Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt, Stocking, apparently a demon all along, chops Panty into 666 pieces. Corset reappears and tells Brief that he must follow the pieces into a new city where the Hell's Monkey has been relocated. And thus ends season one.

    Comic Books 
  • In The Smurfs comic book story "Bathing Smurfs", the Smurfs trick Gargamel into leaving his camping area near the Smurf Village by saying that his house is on fire, and then set up a bonfire behind the house to make it look like the house was on fire. Gargamel tries to one-up on the Smurfs by leaving a trail of cherries behind him so that he can find his way back to the camping spot, but on his return, he sees that a bear is scooping up the cherries and eating them.

    Fairy Tales 
  • "Hansel and Gretel" in all its incarnations. Trope Namer, Trope Maker and Trope Codifier.
    • Though note that the breadcrumbs didn't work; as you might expect, they were eaten by birds. The trail of stones is what did.
  • "Hop-o'-My-Thumb" seems to be Hansel and Gretel's eternal rival. In France, this trope is more associated with him than them.
    • Likewise in Spain.
  • In the Grimm folktale "Spindle, Shuttle and Needle," a poor orphan girl who was using the titular items while the king's son was out looking for a girl who was "at once the poorest and the richest" started singing a little rhyme her godmother had taught her: "Spindle, spindle, one two three, Bring my suitor home to me." At which point the spindle jumped out of the window and chased off after the prince, leaving a golden thread for him to follow back to her.
  • In "The Grateful Prince", the prince leaves peas behind as he goes with the old man. When he returns with the Damsel in Distress, they follow them.
    As the prince had expected the peas had taken root, and grown into a little hedge, so that they were sure they would not lose the path.
  • In The Tinder Box the Queen finds out how the Princess has been leaving the palace each night by tying a bag of flour to her that has a hole in it. They follow the trail to the soldier's house.

  • Aliens. Ripley dropped flares behind her while entering the xenomorphs' nest so she could find her way out.
  • In Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, Will Turner leaves a trail of bodies strapped to barrels in order to lead Beckett to Shipwreck Cove. At least until Jack interferes and sends Will with them.
    • The "birds eat the trail" aspect is inverted, as scavenging seabirds that flock around the bodies actually make it easier for Beckett to spot them and follow.
  • The Hallelujah Trail: Oracle Jones stakes out a safe path through Quicksand Bottoms with torn up strips of his red long-johns. Then Cora Massingale and the ladies of Group C move his stakes.
  • In Madeline: Lost In Paris, Madeline drops beads as she's being taken away by her "uncle" so that her friends can follow her.
  • Played with in the Korean horror film Hansel and Gretel.
  • In Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Mac is seen secretly dropping little blinking radio beacons so the Russians can follow him. Why he couldn't just keep one on him and have them track that is unclear, maybe they have limited range.
  • In The Bourne Ultimatum, when Nicky Parsons sees Desh coming to assassinate her, she immediately grabs her phone and disassembles it while making her escape into a crowded market street, throwing the separate pieces onto the ground as a trail for Jason, who is about a minute behind them, to follow.
  • In First Knight, when Guinevere is kidnapped, she tears strips from her dress to mark the way for Lancelot to rescue her.
  • In Leprechaun 2, Bridget is kidnapped by the evil leprechaun and taken to his lair. While trying to escape the maze-like area, she leaves a trail of stones in an effort to not get lost, but the stones disappear as soon as she puts them down, rendering the tactic useless.
  • Veronica Lake's character in This Gun For Hire is a stage magician, who drops playing cards as breadcrumbs when she is kidnapped.

  • Danny Dunn and the Fossil Cave: Danny and his friends are exploring an underground cave system. Danny tries to mark their path by dropping a radioactive substance behind them, intending to find their way back with a Geiger counter. His plan fails when some of the substance gets caught in his upturned trouser cuff.
  • In Pyrates, while in the process of being kidnapped, Shannon leaves a trail of cookie crumbs as a hint for her friends.
  • In The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, Pippin purposely drops the brooch from his cloak so that Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli can know that he and Merry were prisoners, on top of the footprints he left, where they would not be obscured by orcish footprints.
  • In The Elenium, Sparhawk and his friends track Adus through a maze by following the blood trail he was leaving from a wound he received shortly before entering the maze. Then they realize that given the length of the trail, she should have already bled to death and discover that at some point the red splatters they had been following had switched from blood to paint.
  • One of the stories in Oathblood has a more up-scale version of this. Two kidnapped children lay a trail of silk and peals, so that their teachers can find them.
  • Averted, then played straight in Tom Sawyer. Tom and Becky Thatcher became lost in the local caves because they didn't leave a trail (of candle-smoke marks) to find their way back. Then a couple pages later, when he was exploring side passages to try to find a way out, he used a big piece of kite string to keep from getting even more lost.
  • In Michael Flynn's Up Jim River, the scarred man explains to the harper that her mother would have left a trail of breadcrumbs — and then has to explain the idiom.
  • In Seanan McGuire's October Daye novel Rosemary and Rue, Toby observes that she's wished for this in the Shadowed Hills.
  • Beaufort by Ron Leshem. The Israeli soldiers are taught to leave a trail of torn off buttons and other items if they're kidnapped.
  • At the end of Madness In Maggody, Lamont Petrel is tarred-and-feathered by a gang of high school boys, then flees into the woods with his business partner Jim Bob hot on his trail. While the boys hadn't heated the tar enough to do Petrel serious injury, he unwittingly leaves a trail of tar-smears and chicken feathers behind for a furious Jim Bob to follow.

    Live Action TV 
  • On NCIS, when Ziva and Tony are trapped in a shipping container on the back of a lift, Ziva leaves a trail of money behind them in the hopes that Gibbs will follow it and find them.
    • Or, for that matter, that someone else will do so, if only to gather up the money for their own benefit.
  • In the CSI episode "Gum Drops", while searching for a missing child only he believes is alive, Nick finds pieces of gum that he believes she dropped intentionally. This is emphasized by a picture in her room of her dressed as Gretel.
  • In the TV movie Get Smart Again, Professor Helmut Schmelding left a trail of books from the entrance of the warehouse that the KAOS agents were hiding in to the actual entrance of their base, starting with a copy of Hansel and Gretel.
  • Doctor Who:
    • The Fifth Doctor searches the Tardis for a "Zero Room" to recuperate in after regenerating. As he's still a little potty from the process, he leaves a trail to find his way by ripping off pieces from his clothing. As this included unravelling the Fourth Doctor's iconic scarf, some fans found it rather upsetting.
    • In In The Forest Of The Night, Maebh drops various items so Clara and the Doctor can find her as she runs to the source of the forest. Hansel and Gretel get a mention.
  • Artemus Gordon of The Wild Wild West comes up with several different devices which leave a trail for the good guys to follow, including a trick briefcase which bleeds luminescent dust and special tape which adheres to carriage wheels and leaves a trail only visible through special lenses.
  • In Grimm, a kidnapped girl drops pieces of a necklace for would-be rescuers to follow. Given the nature of the series, it should come as no surprise that the character in question is named Gretta.
  • In an episode of Merlin Guinevere tears shreds of her blouse and leaves them on twigs so that Arthur can track her through the forest (being in the company of Brainwashed and Crazy knights at the time).
  • Supernatural. Dean and his Girl of the Week are snatched by a wendigo, so he leaves a trail of Peanut M&Ms. Sam muses that they're better than breadcrumbs, because the brightly-coloured sweets stand out more in The Lost Woods.
  • In Kenan & Kel, the duo are climbing up the stairs of CS Tower and Kel leaves a trail of bread crumbs to help them find their way back. Kenan has to remind them that they are going upstairs and will go back downstairs.

  • The probable Ur Example: in the Greek myth of the Minotaur, the hero Theseus was able to find his way out of King Minos' labyrinth by using a ball of thread given to him by Ariadne. He tied one end to the entrance and unwound it as he walked, so he could follow it out afterwards.

  • In the Pink Panther pinball, the Pink Panther follows the jewel thief by following a trail of small gems she drops behind her.

    Video Games 
  • According to the manual, the banana trails in Donkey Kong Country were left by retreating Kremlings as they wheeled away DK's fruit hoard.
  • Team Fortress 2: Exiting a teleporter will cause you to leave a trail of glowing particles for 18 seconds. The enemy team might use this as a clue to identifying the teleporter's location.
  • In MOTHER, you can eat the Bread item to recover some HP. However, if you Use it instead, you get Crumbs, and by using Crumbs, you return to the spot you were in when you used the bread. Handy!
  • In old adventure games that contained unmappable mazes of identical passages, players often resorted to leaving a trail of objects to find their way around.
  • The Track psyenergy in Golden Sun: Dark Dawn allows you to follow a scent path to find your way around. However the only times it's useful are in the first dungeon you can use it in (and it isn't necessary if you know how to traverse it), and a puzzle in the final dungeon that requires you to follow the hidden scent path to unlock a gate.
  • Fable II uses a glowing trail on the ground to point the way to the player's active objective, rather than a blip on a radar screen. It's even referred to as a "breadcrumb trail."
  • Dead Space has a similar effect, though rather than being always on, it's invoked by a button press, when then shows a specific path the player must take.
  • The Lord Of The Rings: Aragorn's Quest has a player-activated glowing trail that leads the player to his next quest objective.
  • In the Facebook flash game Indiana Jones Adventure World, one of the scenarios involves tracking down a kidnapped Sallah, who leaves a trail of his clothes. Chibi-Indy snarks that he hopes Sallah still has his pants when he's done making the trail.
  • In the indie adventure game Resonance, Anna in a dream sequence can leave a trail of pesos in order to find her way while crawling through a creepy Air-Vent Passageway.
  • After Commissioner Gordon is taken hostage in Batman: Arkham Asylum, Batman tracks him down by the trail of tobacco clumps Gordon was leaving behind. Throughout the games Batman also tracks down certain places and people by following various DNA evidence, although in those cases they weren't intentionally leaving a trail.
  • In the original Zork, solving the "maze of twisty little passages, all alike" by dropping items can work, though the thief might take some of them.
  • In World of Warcraft, a quest that takes you to another quest hub is called a "breadcrumb" quest, especially those that involve somebody saying to do nothing more extensive than "Talk to X: He has Jobs for you."


    Western Animation 
  • In Pooh's Heffalump Movie, Piglet leaves behind a trail of pink jellybeans so he can find his way back during the expedition. Unfortunately, Pooh eats them.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender: Aang leaves a trail of Appa's shedded fur for Azula to follow in "The Chase", deciding to confront her personally at a place of his choice. In a Genre Savvybut ultimately bad–decision, Azula follows the trail herself, but sends her minions to search for the other members of the Gaang.
  • Johnny Bravo once used a trail of bread crumbs thinking it would help him find his way home. Sure enough, birds ate the trail and he got lost even though he was right outside his house. Another time, Johnny, Carl, and Susie were traveling in the woods and Carl used a trail of pebbles while stating Hansel and Gretel's mistake. They get lost because Johnny eats the pebbles.
  • In the Adventure Time episode "The Hard Easy", Jake leaves a trail of lollipops to help him and Finn navigate through a swamp while tracking down a monster. Unfortunately, Jake eventually runs out of lollipops, and the Mega-Frog's trail is so winding that they end up getting lost anyway.
  • In an episode of Captain Planet, Gi, Ma-Ti, and another kid are kidnapped. Gi breaks her beaded necklace and leaves a trail of beads. Wheeler spots the beads and finds them in the swamp.
  • Super Friends episode "The Mysterious Moles". While Wendy, Marvin and Wonder Dog are exploring underground, Marvin leaves chalk marks on the walls so they can find their way back to the surface.
  • In The Rabbit With The Checkered Ears' episode "Kriszta, the Indian", Kriszta gets a bit overenthusiastic while pretending to be an American Indian and takes her friend Menyus prisoner. When the series' title character flies to Menyus' rescue, there is a trail of broken cookies from a bag he had bought earlier leading from the corner where Kriszta took him captive back to her house. (In a nod to Hansel and Gretel, some of the cookies are attracting the attention of the local bird population, but not enough to break the trail.)
  • Parodied in an episode of Catscratch, where Blik and Waffle dress up as a unicorn and Waffle leaves behind eggs to help them find their way back.
  • In Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends, Mac and Bloo get lost in a maze of hallways in Foster's, Bloo decides to leave a trail of laundry from the laundry room to help them keep track of where they've been. Unfortunately, Wilt, Coco, and Eduardo (who are looking for Mac and Bloo) see the laundry and decide to pick it up.
  • Hey Arnold!, has Arnold and friends exploring a cave on an island, Arnold leaves a trail of jellybeans to help them find their way back, which they use to help them escape the cave and two counterfeiters. Along the way, they find Harold eating the jellybeans.

    Real Life 
  • Amber McCarthy, a thief from East Sussex, made the mistake of spilling cornflakes all over herself while absconding with the contents of a shop's till. Police followed the trail of cereal all the way to her hotel room.
  • Among web designers, "breadcrumbs" is the term for a small trail of links that appears at the top of a page to show which categories and subcategories you are browsing, which can help you retrace your virtual steps back to the home page and keep you from getting lost on a Wiki Walk.