Before you head into the great outdoors, it’s always a good idea to have some sort of GPS device with full batteries, a cellphone with a compass function, an old school dry compass or a modern liquid filled compass. Any of these gadgets will point you north and then allow you to determine the rest of your directions from there. However, if you don’t have access to a compass and you’re lost, there are still other ways to get your bearings.
- The sun rises in the east and sets in the west and with that knowledge it’s easy to determine your directions from the sun’s path. While it may not be true east or true west because of your exact location or the season, it is close enough to help you reorient yourself. The moon also follows the same course, so if you are lost at night you can follow the moon’s track in order to determine east and west.
- When navigating in the dark, the night sky can also provide some great clues for determining directions. Constellations, like the Big Dipper, have been used as navigation tools for ages. Tim says if you can find the Big Dipper you’ll be able to find true north. Using the edge of the dipper, form a line with the two outermost stars in the bowl of the Big Dipper and that will point to Polaris, the North Star.
- If there aren't any stars visible in the night sky, you can use weather patterns for directional clues. Most of the storm systems in North America move west to east, Tim says, so wind direction and storms can often give you help to determine which direction you are facing.
- Think that the searching for moss on the north side of trees will help you determine which direction north is? Think again! Tim says that in North America that isn’t a reliable method for orienting yourself and can often send you in the exact opposite direction.
Knowing your directions when lost will only be so helpful if you know which way to go to get back to where you started. Tim stresses the importance of taking a moment before you set out to orient yourself, make a mental note of the direction you are entering the woods or wilderness and which way you’ll need to go to get back. This will give you a greater advantage of finding your way home should you get turned around or lost.
Think about taking a survival skills class from expert Tim MacWelch. You can find a listing of his classes online at www.AdvancedSurvivalTraining.com. Also, do yourself a favor and stock your bookshelves at home with Tim’s survival books: "Ultimate Survival Hacks", “Prepare For Anything”, “Hunting and Gathering Survival Manual”, “How To Survive Anything”, “How To Survive Off the Grid”, “Ultimate Bushcraft Survival Manual” and “Ultimate Winter Survival Handbook”.