When you find yourself stranded in the wilderness, this will put your ground navigation skills to the test. However, the general rule is that you are better off staying put than going anywhere. This gives you the best shot of rescue teams finding you.
Staying put requires fewer calories, requires less water, and you are less likely to take an injury. However, there are times when staying put is not an option. You might sustain an injury that cannot wait for medical attention. You might be in an area so remote that people would never find you. Perhaps you were careless enough that you did not tell anybody where you were going. In any of these cases, it is probably time to get moving.
Leave a Trail
If you decide you are going to leave, you still need to leave a path for rescue personnel to follow. This means marking your direction of travel every time to stop to take a break. Just put a large arrow in the ground that can be seen from air vehicles or ground vehicles. In addition, you need to blaze a trail as you go. Every few paces, just chop into the bark of a passing tree. This will expose the inner wood leaving a ‘trail of breadcrumbs’ for rescuers to follow.
I know this seems obvious, but you should bring as many navigation tools with you as possible. I am headed to the high desert for a survival challenge in September and will have my phone and GPS with me. However, I have been warned that they may not work in the canyons. Bring a map and compass with you as well so you can plot a course and know your location. Simply find north on your compass and then line up the legend of the map. Find landmarks and you will know where you are. You can even use the map without the compass by looking at your surroundings from a high point or retrace your steps by finding your reverse cardinal direction with only your compass.
Use the Sun
Most people know that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. However, you can use the sun to give you a more accurate cardinal direction. Drive a straight stick into the ground and mark the end of the shadow it creates. Wait 20 minutes and mark the end of that shadow. Draw a line between the two marks for your east/west line. Then draw a perpendicular line for your north/south line. You can even use an analog watch to find your direction. Face the hour hand directly at the sun and then split the difference between the hour hand and the 12 o’clock mark. This is true north. You can draw a watch face on the ground if you only have a digital watch.
Make a Compass
To make a DIY compass, you can fill a small container with water. You will need an object that floats and a small metal object such as a needle or a paperclip. Brush or strike the piece of metal with another piece of metal like your knife to magnetize it. Place your float in the center of the water, and then gently set the piece of metal on the float. Let it settle, and it will give you the north/south line.
Use the Stars
I never suggest traveling at night, but there are times when you have no choice. If you can find the big dipper, you can find the North Star. Locate the outer edge of the cup of this constellation, and follow it away from the mouth of the cup. Eventually, you will find a star that is brighter than the rest in the area. If you follow that star, you will be heading north. You can also find Orion’s belt and walk towards the center star to accomplish the same thing.
Primitive Lifeways shows a video on using the sun compass shadow stick method in ground navigation:
Do you have other ways in ground navigation that was not mentioned in this article? Please let us know in the comments section below.