How to Navigate Without a Compass
How many times has your phone ran out of battery? Have you ever left your compass at home? Do you even have a compass?? In the wilderness, the best move is to expect the unexpected. The following tips will help you to identify true north where you can from there figure which way will put you back towards civilization.
By being able to figure out a direction such as north or east, pick the direction that will work best for you. The compass below shows which direction points each way can then figure where you need to go.
Guidance by the Sun
To get a rough guide of which way is north, see the trajectory of the sun. The sun moves from east to west. This is easy to see in the morning or afternoon, but around midday it is more difficult to see which way is east or west. So if the sun is just rising in the morning in the east, and you need to head south, you would first face towards the sun, then turn 90° right.
Find the Big Dipper and the North Star
1. To find the North Star you first have to locate the Big Dipper constellation in the night sky. Here’s a link to a constellation chart if you’re not sure what the Big Dipper looks like.
2. Next, locate the furthest two stars in the “spoon” part of the Big Dipper and then draw a straight line connecting the two, then continue away from the top of the spoon with that line, approximately five times the distance of the space between the two stars (see top illustration at link above). That line you draw should end right at the North Star.
3. Once you’ve located the North Star, place a stick in the ground, perhaps 2 feet tall, and then a second shorter stick a foot or two away, with the taller stick directly between the shorter stick and the North Star.
4. Now, line your eye sight with the tops of the two sticks with the North Star, so that what it looks like is a diagonal line (in your mind) starting from the top of the shorter stick, slanting up to the top of the longer stick, and finally connecting with the North Star in the sky.
5. Finally, draw a line in the ground from the base of the shorter stick to the base of the longer stick — and then continue to draw a line in the ground so it points away from the longer stick. If you’ve done this right the line will be pointing true north. See: Finding direction without a compass.
Sun and Shadow Method
- Get a stick that is 3 feet long and stick it in vertically into the ground in the morning.
- Put a small rock down at the tip of the shadow as a marker.
- Draw an equidistant circle from the stick in the middle with the rock as a point along its circumference.
- At noon measure the shadow again as the shadow will be at it smallest point.
- In the minutes and hour that follow the sun will begin to drop slightly in the sky as the day continues; the shadow from the stick (in the center) will begin to point longer and longer toward the circle that you drew in the dirt.
- Once the shadow reaches the edge of the circle, mark it with a small rock or twig. Congratulations — you can now identify east and west by drawing a straight line in the dirt from the first rock/twig to the second rock/twig. If you are in the northern hemisphere, the first rock/twig will be pointing west and the second rock/twig will be pointing east.
Study the Moss
UC Santa Barbara conducted a study to see if the moss exclusively grows on the north side of trees. It was discovered that although is almost always grows on the northern side of tress, it does occasionally grow on other sides. This is a good tool to cross reference with the other measures just to double check.