Finding Your Way Without a Compass

lost hikerThe feeling of being lost is terrible. Not lost in the sense of missing a turn while driving down the road in an air conditioned vehicle, or not understanding what someone is telling you, but lost in the true sense of the word. If you’ve ever lost your bearings out in nature you know how rattling it can be. Things start to look the same, you get disoriented, panic sets in. If you have a compass you can point yourself in the right direction and make your way, but what do you do if you don’t have a compass? Here are some tips for finding your way without a compass.

Having a good sense of direction is great but it doesn’t do you any good if you’re lost with no inkling of cardinal direction. If you don’t have a compass and you can’t make out any recognizable landmarks or indicators, finding north is going to be your best bet.

The sun rises in the east and sets in the west. This makes finding direction easy at sunrise and sunset, but what about midday? Place a stick or other object upright in the ground. Find the tip of the shadow and mark it on the ground. Wait 15 minutes and mark the tip of the shadow again. Since the sun moves east to west, shadows will move the opposite direction. The first mark will be west and the second will be east. A perpendicular line gives you north and south.

If you’re trying to navigate at night and you’re in the northern hemisphere you can find north by locating the aptly named North Star (Polaris). The North Star is the last star in the handle of the Little Dipper. If you face this star you will be facing north.

Neither of these methods are accurate enough for precise navigation, they just give you a general sense of direction.

If you are truly lost and you aren’t confident that you can find your way even if you knew cardinal direction, the best strategy is to stay put. Assuming you told someone where you are going and they will notify search and rescue when you don’t return, the best way to be found is by remaining in one place. This makes it easier to be found and prevents you and the search party from unknowingly chasing each other around.

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