We now live in a world where GPS devices, digital maps, and other navigation software are all accessible via our cellphones. Few of us just stroll into the woods without a phone, a personal GPS, or some other form of navigation. However, phones are powered by batteries, and batteries degrade at a faster rate than we think. If you become disoriented off track without a phone or a compass and are unable to locate north, we have a few ways to assist you in navigating back to civilisation.
Before we begin, it’s important to review the fundamentals of outdoor safety: Rescue personnel will have an easier time locating you if you remain in one spot, ideally close to your last known position or intended destination. Unless you are confronted with a life-threatening situation, such as a natural disaster, remain put and avoid leaving the track! However, for the sake of this tutorial, let us suppose you have departed off the usual route. What are your responsibilities?
How do you find your way back in the forest without tools – or your phone?
Follow the land
When you find yourself well off the beaten path but not in entirely new territory, you must address two questions: Which direction is downhill in this area? And where is the nearest source of water? The majority of humans live in valleys and on (or near) sources of fresh water. Therefore, if you continue downwards and follow whatever H2O you come across, you should ultimately encounter evidence of humans, assuming you do not come across a route first.
If you’ve already visited the region, keep a look out for recognizable landmarks—you’d be shocked how quickly spotting a particular rock or tree may reorient you.
Another possibility is to ascend to a height and search for traces of human settlement. For instance, even in deep woodland, you should be able to identify holes in the tree line caused by roads, electricity lines, railroad tracks, and other pathways cut through the forests by humans. Approach these fractures in order to discover a path out. At night, examine the horizon for artificial light sources such as fires and lamps, and then move toward the light pollution’s radiance.
Finally, if you become disoriented in an area frequented by people, look for the imprints we leave on the terrain. Trail markers, tire tracks, and other things can point you in the direction of civilization.
Check the sun
Even if you have a map, it will be useless unless you have your bearings. The sun, fortunately, can steer you in the right way.
This is not, however, the most exact way. “The sun rises in the east and sets in the west,” we are taught, but a more true statement is “The sun rises roughly east-southeast and sets roughly west-southwest, but the precise bearings will vary according to the time of year.” Additionally, there is the hemisphere flip to consider. The sun appears in the southern portion of the sky in the Northern Hemisphere, whereas it appears in the northern part of the sky in the Southern Hemisphere. Additionally, our star travels across the sky as the Earth orbits the sun. This is to say, do not automatically think “East” when you see the rising light.
Despite its idiosyncrasies, you can still use the sun to determine your position. To begin, locate a straight stick around three feet in length and vertically position it in a flat spot. Following that, make a mark on the ground at the top of the stick’s shadow, wait ten to fifteen minutes, then make another mark at the top of the shadow. To the west of the second mark, the first should be placed. Therefore, if you position your body in such a way that the first impression (west) is to your left and the second impression (east) is to your right, you should be facing north.
What if you don’t have a flat piece of soil or a long enough straight stick? Sunlight can still assist you in navigating, although in a far more primitive manner. In the Northern Hemisphere, things’ southern faces receive more direct sunlight than their northern faces. In the Southern Hemisphere, the converse is true. As a result, if you’re hiking above the equator, the southern face of a hill will likely have more vegetation than the northern face; plants that prefer cooler, damper environments, such as moss, will likely grow on the northern sides of trees; and puddles on the ground may shrink as they travel north to south. Having said that, puddles and plants can change for a variety of causes unrelated to the sun: Moss, for example, has more than enough shade to grow wherever it pleases in dense woodlands. As a result, you may wish to keep this approach as a last resort navigation option.
Read the night sky
When you’re out after dark, the sky can still guide you.
Although the moon orbits the earth more frequently than the sun, we have a way for determining (approximately) north. Additionally, it is effective in both hemispheres.
Bear in mind that moonlight is just reflected sunlight, which means that the brilliant side of the moon faces the sun, while the dark side faces away from it. This implies it can provide an approximate east-west line. When the moon is a crescent, draw a line connecting the two horns. Extend this line till it reaches the horizon. The point at which it makes contact with the earth provides an estimate of due north.
In the Northern Hemisphere, you may also determine north by identifying Polaris, the North Star, which is located at the very point of the Little Dipper’s handle. Drop straight down from Polaris to the horizon, and you should arrive at a point about north. However, this approach is not accurate, especially in a tense situation.
If you are unable to locate Polaris, try the following: Take two sticks of varying lengths. Then, find the brightest star you can see and align the sticks with your body so that the light shines directly into your eye from the top of the longer stick to the top of the shorter one. After a few moments, look again along the same sight line. If the light has shifted higher, you are facing east. If it has shifted downward, you are now looking west. A rightward shift indicates you’re facing south, whereas a leftward shift indicates you’re facing north. This works because stars, like our sun, rise approximately east of the equator and set approximately west of the equator.
Finally, none of these strategies would be necessary if you carried something other than your phone on this outdoor adventure. Even if you’re hiking ultra-lightly, you should bring a few essential items, like a compass and a non-battery-powered method of signaling for assistance—for example, a flare or a signal mirror. This manner, if you become disoriented, you may remain still, as basic safety standards suggest. A rescue team will always begin their search at your last known position, so stay as close to it as possible.
Nonetheless, suppose you get disoriented in the absence of instruments. All of these navigation techniques will be most effective if you have previously practiced them in a safe environment. Therefore, the next time you go trekking with equipment, practice these abilities and experiment with your navigation gadgets to determine their precision.
Even if you never have to use them, these skills will help you develop a stronger appreciation for your surroundings. They can explain why trees have more leaves on one side, how and why the stars move in the sky, and why the founders of your town chose the location for it. We are fortunate enough not to require these abilities on a daily basis. Rather of that, we may utilize them to discover how humans traveled in the past and how the world continues to function now.