Wood was born in Perth, Scotland. After schooling at Perth Academy, he joined the British Indian Navy and soon demonstrated a flair for surveying. Many of the maps of southern Asia which he compiled remained standard for the rest of the 19th century.
After his central Asian explorations, Wood spent a year in Wellington, New Zealand, before moving back to India and establishing himself in Sind, a northern Indian province that is now part of Pakistan. In 1871, he decided to return to Britain, but before leaving made one final trip to Simla in the Punjab, where he fell ill. He nonetheless embarked on the voyage home, but died only two weeks after his arrival, on November 14 .