Navigating Without a Compass. Plus, Est. Time and Distance
Of course you should never go into the woods without a compass, but in case you forgot it or lost it, here are some ways to navigate without a compass.
Using an Analog Watch
There are two methods for finding North using an analog watch. Each depends on which hemisphere you are in.
In the Northern Hemisphere do the following:
- Point the hour hand at the sun
- imagine there is a line down the middle of the angle between the hour hand and the 12 o’clock mark
- the line down the middle of the angle is pointing south; so the opposite direction is north
In the Southern Hemisphere do the following:
- Point the 12 o’clock mark at the sun
- imagine there is a line down the middle of the angle between 12 o’clock mark and the hour hand
- the angle down the middle of the angle is pointing North
Using the Shadow Method
Obviously you need the sun for this to work. You will also need a stick about 3 feet high and two stones or something to mark two points.
- Stand the stick upright
- place a stone or marker at the tip of where the shadow falls
- wait 10 to 15 minutes and put the second marker where the tip of the shadow now falls
- draw a line between the two points. This is the east/west line.
- place the toe of your left foot on the first rock and the toe of your right foot on the second rock. You are now facing North. Remember, the first marker will always be West.
Using Two Sticks At Night
Hopefully, you are not traveling at night! This method might help you get your bearings in case there was no sun during the day.
- Lie down and drive a stick into the ground at eye level
- drive a second, taller stick into the ground behind this stick so that the tips of the two line up with a bright star
- watch the star for a few minutes; if it seems to move:
Up – you are facing East
Down – you are facing West
Right – you are facing South
Left – you are facing North
As an illustration on how to do this using right triangles (relax! it’s easy; just watch), imagine you are standing on one side of a stream with a tree on the opposite bank. For some reason you want to estimate how wide the stream is. Here is how you do it. (the points refer to the image above)
- Stand on the bank of the stream facing the landmark (say a tree); where you are standing is point Y and the tree is point X
- turn 90 degrees (say to the right) away from point X (the tree) and take 20 steps. Place a stick in the ground; this is point A
- continue in a straight line and take another 20 steps. Place a stick in the ground; this is point B.
- turn 90 degrees again (your back should be towards the stream now)
- start stepping in a straight line, counting the steps as you go; stop when points A and X (the tree) line up; this is point C
- the number of steps between points B and C is the approximate distance across the stream
In case you’ve forgotten or lost your watch, here’s a way to estimate time.
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