If I don't have a compass, how can I tell direction?

If I don't have a compass, how can I tell direction?
The Editors
Santa Fe, NM

Tony Nester     Photo: Courtesy of Ancient Pathways

Tony Nester

Tony Nester

The four most reliable methods of barehanded navigation I know of are:

  1. The North Star. This is found by using the sidewall of the Big Dipper's bowl (on the right side) and lining up the two stars to form a line which points upward. Follow this up to the (faint) handle of the Little Dipper. This is the North Star, also called Polaris, and it lines up with True North (different than magnetic North on your compass). Take some rocks and make an arrow that lines up with the North Star and you will have the marker during the daylight hours.
  2. Crescent Moon- when the tips of the crescent moon are shining like a white fang in the night sky, draw an imaginary line from the upper tip to the bottom tip and then extend this line down to the horizon. This will indicate south. Or at least "southerly."
  3. East & West- Sounds like common sense but some of my college students scratch their heads in wonder when I ask where the sun rises and sets!
  4. Shadow-stick method- Making a sun-compass takes time but it is pretty accurate. Place a straight stick (around 24") in the dirt and mark the tip of the shadow with a distinct pebble or small sliver of wood. Return after 30 minutes and mark the new shadow tip. Do this over the course of an hour or two marking each new tip and preferably between 11 am to 2 pm. After the allotted time, draw a line in the dirt connecting the pebble/stick markers. This will give you the East-West line. Etch in the dirt, a North-South axis and you will have a sun-compass.

Barehanded navigation methods like these are not as pinpoint accurate as shooting a bearing off a compass but can provide you with the general location of the cardinal directions. Keep in mind that if you are lost, you are better off staying put and waiting for searchers rather than trying to navigate out which may place you further outside of the search radius.

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