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AcesHigh 11-14-2011 01:27 AM

Finding your way without a GPS, Compass, Or a Map
Have you ever thought "What if I somehow got lost?" if not then you should. It can happen to the best of us unexpectedly. Hiking with the proper directional tools is highly recommended, even if you don't use them in case of emergency. But what if you relied on directional tools (gps, compass, map, etc.) and somehow they got damaged or lost during a hike, without any alternate direction finding knowledge. Whether it fell off a cliff, dropped/lost in the snow, battery dies in your GPS or damaged by water etc. Somehow you are on your own with direction finding and deep in the bush. Darkness or storms setting in can make things worse as well. How would you find your way?

There are several ways you can find direction without a map, gps or compass that many people do not realise that can be used in an emergency and are very simple. They may not be as 100% accurate as a compass or gps but can somewhat point you in the right direction, and possibly keep you from going in circles.

You can find direction by different ways such as the sun, moon, stars, trees / plants and more, in a worst case scenario. You can use items such as a stick and some rocks, a watch with a face dial, paper and a pen, to help direction find.

What is most important is that you should always do as many checks as you can before coming to a conclusion of which way is the right way if you are lost, to verify direction. Also some say you should stay put, these methods of direction are for those in the most dire need.

Do you know a great way to direction find that isn't mentioned? Or do you have a method of direction finding without the use of directional tools that has helped you in a bad situation? Please do share.

Here are several web pages I've read or viewed that I found interesting and knowledgeable.
Youtube Videos:

Information Page:

If you learn something that is great, if they save you someday even better ;). If you already knew all this, that's great too. I was going to post this thread some time ago but didn't, better late than never. I am in no way a direction finding expert but found these methods interesting.

BillyGoat 11-14-2011 01:39 AM

Well I guess you can at least read up on it if you dont get out and practice them.

19351 11-14-2011 12:05 PM

Good tips Aces.
Tim , your comment was totaly uncalled for.

AcesHigh 11-14-2011 12:48 PM

Thanks Russ, I don't think there is any hikers that shouldn't review these links, unless of course they already know all of this. It's good to even brush up on things. Many years ago many people travelled without the direction finders/tools of today, and did not get lost (some did however), they used what little they had to go on. I find it an interesting topic of discussion, and I would be interested in hearing any other alternate methods if anyone has any input. You can never learn too much.

19351 11-14-2011 12:59 PM

I think we have all misplaced a trail at least once or twice!
One thing I do, which is now a habit, is to look back on the direction I came every so often just to get a feel of where I should be when coming back.I find it useful especially as the sun starts to set.

mad owl woman 11-14-2011 02:03 PM

BBC travel recently ran a video on this topic: navigating a city without a smart phone or map.

To be honest, I bought my last compass to navigate cities in Europe [:I]. I found once I could orient myself to the main river that most old cities are built around, everything else fell into place. Especially useful when leaving subway stations.

TheShadow 11-14-2011 03:04 PM

Have to admit that once I left BC and went back to the 'Peg (in the 80's)...I was lost in the city without having all those handy mountains to orientate myself.
It must have been foresight that made me install an auto compass before I left; sure made a difference!

peter1955 11-16-2011 10:20 AM

As you say, wear a dial watch.

Point the hour hand at the sun. South will be half way between the hour hand and 12 o'clock.

Once you know that, you have a good starting point.

Dru 11-16-2011 10:26 AM

In Europe they teach children to leave a trail of breadcrumbs behind. It's great for meeting witches and stuff like that.

Hiking Solo 11-16-2011 12:05 PM


quote:Originally posted by Dru

In Europe they teach children to leave a trail of breadcrumbs behind. It's great for meeting witches and stuff like that.
Now that comment is pure gold...! :D

Osbos 11-16-2011 03:58 PM

Here's some more advice:
"You know you're from Vancouver Island have been lost in the woods on several occasions; you know you will be again; and you're ok with that..."
Quoting from Vancouver Island Book of Everything, edited by Peter Grant, et al., MacIntyre Purcell, 2008.

magnetite 11-16-2011 11:36 PM

The 10 degree fist method is taught in basic astronomy/stargazing courses for estimating angles across the night sky, but it works for daytime directions too. The sun travels west across the sky at a rate of approximately 15 degrees per hour (stars are exactly 15 degrees per hour). The width of your closed fist at arms length is approximately 10 degrees. This value works well for all sizes of people, as smaller people have shorter arms and smaller hands. If you know the time, face-watch or not, knowing that the sun is south at noon allows you to find south by counting fist-widths forwards/right or backwards/left from the current sun position. If it is 10 AM, three fist widths to the right of the sun, along the path of the sun rather than horizontally, will find approximate south. If it is 5 PM, a bit less than two widths to the right will find approximate west. Daylight savings screws this up of course (as it does the face-watch method), so you have to account for that too, but not in the summer.
Astronomy has been a long-time hobby for me and I learned basic navigation by star and constelation positions. This is how people navigated for thousands of years, particularly at sea. Modern culture has left it somewhat of a lost art, practiced by few other than telescope geeks (which is also dying off due to computer controlled scopes - sigh).
If you can find Polaris, the north star, you've got it made, as that star is within 1/4 degree of true north. If you can't see the north star, a bit more knowledge is required, as the positions of stars change throughout the year as well as throughout the night - for a given time of night, everything appears 30 degrees (three fist widths) west of where it was at the same time a month earlier. Knowing where a few key stars and planets are in a given season at a given time of night is the key. Jupiter, for example, is very close to due south at around 11:30 right now, also moving west across the sky at very close to 15 degrees per hour (look high to the east in the early evening - its the brightest object). It will gradually move westward throughout the winter and early spring.
In the absence of a compass, a simple star wheel, also known as a planisphere, can be used to find directions.
In one of the videos there was a comment stating that the sun sets in the west. This depends on where you are in the world and what time of year it is. At our latitude the sun sets in the WNW in June and in the WSW in December. The direction it sets varies by more than 45 degrees thoughout the year

monNom 11-17-2011 12:50 AM

of course none of these methods is reliable here on the coast, where more likely than not the sun is hidden behind a pure white sky which casts no hard shadows, and the moss grows all the way around the tree trunks!

Sometimes looking at the landscape (assuming you can see it and you're not in a fog bank!), can give you a rough bearing. Vegetation tends to change on south(sun) facing slopes, with hardier plants and dryer/rockier soil. North facing slopes tend to be lush and keep their snow into late spring. But this get's harder to differentiate the more rain that falls in an area (ahem, vancouver).

Good thread, it's a great reminder just how important a compass and a map are to bring, even if you never need to use them.

AcesHigh 11-17-2011 01:37 AM

Thanks for your input, very interesting, and informative.

I watched another interesting video describing Celestial Navigation or Astronavigation (Navigation using stars), which has been used for many years in the past by sailors and aircraft navigators.

Here is the video briefly discussing Celestial Navigation as a survival directional tool:

Flowing-Brook 11-17-2011 02:16 AM


quote:Originally posted by AcesHigh

You can never learn too much.
Exactly Chris. There is a term in the bible that says, "Out of the mouth of babes the truth is spoken". You may be a bit of a babe in the backcountry but you obviously recognize a good link.

For me, I'm really glad there are mountains to help me remember which bump I want to return to.

Happy trails,

AcesHigh 11-17-2011 11:58 AM

Thanks Lynn, I'm trying to be usefull around here ;)

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