Have you ever been trekking without carrying a GPS with you in recent years?
Roaming through the wild has become exponentially convenient and safe with the introduction of the GPS system.
Numerous hikers now rely solely on their tracking devices when venturing outdoors.
For me, the classic map and compass are unmissed when trekking or hiking. This way I know that I won’t be running into any problems with the signal or battery, and at the same time, I’ll be constantly training my orientation skills.
It doesn’t matter what tools you use to find your way in the wild. What matters most is being prepared. For this reason, I have compiled a list of useful tactics to apply when technology fails you, and you find yourself lost in the woods.
1. Finding your way using the sun
The sun will become your precious guide during those moments of disorientation, mostly because it is unsafe to try and look for an exit during night time for obvious reasons. The fundamental rule to keep in mind is that the sun always rises in the east before setting in the west.
Also, you have to keep in mind that the sun’s direction may vary slightly based on the season you are in. Let’s say the sun rises around 6 am and sets at around 6 pm. This means that it will be highest in the sky at around 12 pm. During this phase, also known as “high noon,” the sun will be at its highest visible point and will face directly south. Keep in mind that its direction will vary based on the hemisphere you are in.
For the Northern Hemisphere, the sun will be oriented southwards, while in the Southern Hemisphere it will be oriented towards the north. Northern Hemisphere will have the sun facing south at noon. The shadow movement will be clockwise as the sun begins its descent. Southern Hemisphere will have the sun pointing north, while the shadows will go counterclockwise.
From this point onward, you have to lock your view to the sun’s trajectory for about 15 minutes or so. Notice and track its trajectory. The Sun will move towards west. All across the world, it moves from east to west. By knowing the cardinal points compared to your location, you will easily find your way while inspecting the map. If you’re not carrying a compass, at least you’ll know which way you’re heading.
2. The shadow-tip method
An easy yet highly effective method for finding your way using the sun and a basic instrument.
- You’ll first need a straight, 3-feet long stick. Then you’ll need to level the ground and push the stick into the mud. The sun will now project a shadow from it. You’ll have to mark the tip of the shadow by drawing a dot, making a small protrusion, or by placing a stone. The marking will indicate west, no matter the hemisphere you are in.
- Now, you need to wait about 10 minutes for the shadow to move on the ground, then do another marking as in the previous step.
- Trace out a line between the two markings. Now you have an approximate direction for east-west.
- By positioning yourself left of the first mark pointing west, and right to the second mark pointing eastward, you’ll then be able to delimit the rest of the cardinal points.
Since you’re now facing north, south should be right behind you, while east should be to your right.
3. Finding your way from a high point
Reaching the highest point you can set your eyes on offers a great advantage in terms of orientation. Seeing the surroundings from a high hill or ridge may be the best chance you have to spot any form of human activity, camp, or settlement.
If nothing of sorts comes into your line of sight, you should look for roads, or for battered trails. If you can spot a path with no vegetation covering it, you have a good chance of finding human assistance by simply following or just waiting somewhere on the side of that path. If you are trekking over the lowlands and there’s nothing high or steep on the horizon, you should look for trees with strong branches to climb and scout the area.
If you find it difficult to climb a tree, you should always carry a rope with you and make a winch/pulley when the need arises.
I hope these tricks will come handy to you and will help you get out of the wild when all means of orientation fail you. Although the chances of finding yourself in such a situation are low with all the technology surrounding us, I believe it’s vital staying prepared, especially if the power grid goes down.