Navigating without a Compass

Navigating without a Compass

An important survival skill is navigating without a compass, map, or GPS. Most people that lost…didn’t plan on it! Therefore, it’s not likely that they packed a compass, map, GPS or other navigation aid. Many people that get lost in the woods are campers separated from their group, families searching for a Christmas tree, or skiers that have taken the wrong trail. These aren’t the kind of outings that you’d expect to pack a compass! So knowing how to navigate by the sun & stars could come in handy if you find yourself in this situation.

There are so many myths and tales out there about navigating without a compass, but before you go searching for moss on trees, here are the reliable ways:

First and foremost: the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. During the winter months, the sun takes a more southerly track than in the summer months for the northern hemisphere (so it rises in the SE and sets in the SW). But overall, this rule-of-thumb alone can help you find your direction on a sunny day. If you don’t have all day to watch and track the sun’s movement, try this:

  1. Put a tall stick in the ground and mark the top of its shadow with a rock.
  2. Wait 15 minutes and place a second rock at the tip of the shadow’s new location.
  3. Place your left foot on the first rock’s location and your right foot on the second rock’s location – you’re now facing north.

The shadow navigation method is a fairly reliable method. You can also draw a “W” at the first spot and an “E’ at the second spot of the tip of the shadow and draw a line between them and then a perpendicular line for North & South. But what do you do if the sun has set?

Ancient mariners had been navigating without a compass for centuries prior to the modern age. And most of their methods put them on right on the right path. How did they do it? Celestial navigation is a fascinating topic in and of itself. But for purposes of an easy-to-remember survival skill, here are a few quick tips when you need to do some land navigation at night.

If you’re in the northern hemisphere on a starry night, locate the big dipper in the sky. There are two stars on the cup of the ladle, opposite the handle. Draw a mental line from these stars and as you pan outward, you should see the North Star, as this is one of the brighter stars in the sky. Follow an imaginary perpendicular line to the horizon – this is north. See picture below.

If you are in the southern hemisphere on a starry night, locate the Southern Cross in the sky. Mentally measure the longitudinal axis of the Southern Cross and extend this axis of the cross approximately 4.5 times in the downward direction. At this imaginary point, take a perpendicular to the horizon – this is south. This one can be a bit tricky – see the picture below for some guidance.

Navigating without a compass gets easier with practice. Try a few of these methods on your next camping trip to show off your survival skills or entertain your campers…these tips could help you find your way!