A long-forgotten skill since the proliferation of GPS in every cell phone, is being able to navigate out in the wilderness. Now you can argue everybody has a cell phone on them at all times these days and Google Maps is sufficient. What happens when your cell phone battery dies because your solar charger fell off of a cliff? In these instances, it would be very important to be able to navigate without a cell phone or a GPS unit. That’s what we intend to cover today is how to navigate through the wilderness without a whole lot of modern gadgets.
It’d be great if everybody had a compass on them at all times but that’s unlikely. You can still navigate even without a compass if you find yourself in a survival situation. The first way is using the sun. We all know that the sun comes up in the East and sets in the West. When the sun rises at dawn if it is at the right-hand side of you then you are facing due North. When the sun rises, and it is on the left-hand side of you then you are facing due South. Keeping in mind the points on a compass and how they relate to the sun rising and setting can give you a general direction of which way you’re heading. In the same vein if the sun is setting and it’s on your left-hand side, you are facing due north. If the sun is setting and it’s on your right side, you are facing South. Of course, if we face the sun when it’s rising, we are facing east and if we face the sun when it is setting, we are facing West.
There is another way to use the sun though which is a little bit more detailed and accurate. Find a stick that is straight and about 3 feet long. Look for a level spot that’s relatively free from brush where it will definitely be able to cast a shadow. Then place the stick into the ground and mark the tip of the shadow with a stone or a twig or simply make a line in the sand at the end of the shadow. This will mark west no matter where you are in the world or what time of day it is unless it is high noon. Wait 15 minutes until the tip of the shadow has moved slightly. Marked the tip of the second point. Then draw a straight line through the marks. This is your approximate east West line. By standing with the first mark on your left-hand side and the second mark on your right-hand side, you will be facing north. This method is not 100% accurate but it is good for general orientation.
It is also possible to use the stars for wilderness navigation at night. It’s important to be familiar with the stars in your sky as they differ based on the northern hemisphere and the southern hemisphere. Since the writer is based in the northern hemisphere, we will be talking about those stars that are easily seen there. If you’re out in the wilderness it may be easier to see stars and then you can accurately navigate at night.
There are two constellations which are exceptionally important to locate. The first is the Big Dipper and the second is Cassiopeia. These constellations never set so if you are in the northern hemisphere, you will be able to reach a conclusion of where Polaris is, which is the north star. Each constellation is located directly opposite the other and rotate counterclockwise around the north star. The two stars which formed the outer lip of the Big Dipper are known as pointer stars because if you draw a line through them and continue about five times the distance you will find the north star.
Cassiopeia has five stars which form a W shape on its side and the north star is straight out from the center star in that W. The reason both constellations should be used is because the north star actually forms part of the handle of the little dipper. Relying on both constellations means that you won’t confuse the Big Dipper with the little dipper, and we’ll know that you have successfully located the north star.
For cloudy days and nights there is yet another way to find some bearings. Recognizing basic patterns in nature can give you some clues as to what direction you’re traveling. On fallen trees if you look at the stump’s growth it will be more vigorous on the side that points towards the equator East to West, and the tree rings will be more widely spaced in that area. Oppositionally, the tree growth rings will be closer together facing towards the poles north and South.
If you happen to be in the mountains, remember that north facing slopes will receive less sun and therefore will typically be cooler, damper, and have more snow even into the summer months.