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Article: 4 Survival Methods for Navigating Without a Compass

4 Survival Methods for Navigating Without a Compass

So you've been following the road back to camp for a few hours and you just screwed yourself. You forgot to make that right turn a few miles back and realized that you are completely lost without a map. Like most people who are facing that unfortunate truth of fighting to stay alive, the only thing certain is that you are not at the top of the food chain anymore. How would you get back to civilization if you have no clue what direction to the nearest town is? The first step of not becoming a permanent addition to the local ecosystem is determining which way direction heads North. Fear not for we have done our research! We present to you the top 4 Navigation tips experts recommend for navigating yourself (or party) back to safety:

The Stick and Shadow Method (Daytime)
(Photo Credit: HowStuffWorks)

The most practical method out of the five, this technique has been utilized by explorers and pioneers for hundreds of years. The technique is fairly simple, involving a fairly straight stick that’s 12 to 18 inches in length. Set the stick in an upright position against the sun. Using a marker, establish where the shadow ends using whatever preferred method (pebbles, marker sticks, or scratches). After 10-15 minutes you are able to identify the direction of the shadow’s movement. Track the gradual changes periodically over a span of 45 minutes. After several markers, draw a line in between the marks. Congratulations! You have just identified the east-west line (the sun rises and sets from east to west). As you will notice, the shadow of the stick will move from west to east.

Try Building a Makeshift Compass (Daytime)
(Photo Credit: HowStuffWorks)

Building your own makeshift compass is not as difficult as one might think. To do this, you’ll need objects comprised of iron (such as a needle, razor blade, or pin). For simplicity purposes, let’s just say you have a needle. You’ll first begin by magnetizing the ferrous object – easiest way being to rub it with a magnet in one direction only. These strokes will indicate which direction these objects will point (north or south). Silk has been commonly used for temporarily creating a static charge -- magnetizing your needle.

Short of silk material? Copper wire and batteries can also be utilized. Coil the wire around your needle with both ends attached to the terminals of the battery. After 15-20 minutes your needle will be magnetized.

To utilize your needle as a compass you will first have to suspend it using string or in a still pool of water. By suspending the object, it will naturally point north (or south depending on your hemisphere). Although unpractical in some survival situations, you now have the knowledge to build one of the most accurate tools on the list.

The Watch Method (Daytime)
(Photo Credit: WikiHow)

A watch is most commonly carried item during expeditions by many survivalist and outdoorsman alike. To get a basic sense of direction during emergency situations, hold it in the palm of your hand. If in the Northern Hemisphere, point the hour hand towards the sun (pointing in the direction of east or west). If you can imagine a passing horizontally through the hour and, you have just established an approximate north-south line. Remember that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west if you are unable to distinguish which way are north and south. For those in the southern hemisphere, use the minute hand. One of the most intricate and technical of methods, in an emergency situation you will want every advantage you can get.

The Moon Method (Nighttime)
(Photo Credit: WikiHow)

Using the sun to navigate is a common method, but not the only. Explorers for the last few centuries have utilized the moon and the constellations to navigate in the darkest of nights. Be fair warned that most survivalist will commonly use the night to rest in preparation for daily travel (in other words, when nocturnal creatures are least likely to hunt you), but this is a method that can be utilized in dire situations. Using what we know about the Earth’s positioning in regards to the sun and the moon, we can easily determine a rough estimate of north and south. Based on the reflection of light off of the moon (we assume that it is a reflection of the sun), the crescent can help establish an approximate foundation of east and west.

Keep in mind that these methods of navigation can only establish an approximate sense of direction. The most important tool you can carry in survival situations is the knowledge of the terrain. Although putting yourself in those types of situations aren’t highly recommended, you can now feel safe knowing that you now have added to your preparedness for navigating in survival situations.

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