Navigation and Survival

You probably don’t use your GPS when you go to the grocery store. You know exactly where it is and how to get there. You could probably drive there in your sleep.

When you travel to a nearby city, you might use your GPS for part of the drive, but mainly as a backup because you probably have a pretty good idea where you’re going.

When you travel to another state, you probably pay attention to your GPS much of the way because it’s unfamiliar territory.

Someday you may have to bug out to the wilderness due to a disaster. Your GPS may or may not be working, but you’re definitely going to need to know in which direction you are heading.

A potential lifesaver

The most reliable tool to use for that is a compass. So make sure you have several of them in your survival stash. They’re small and most are inexpensive.

The alternative to knowing which direction to head is wandering around aimlessly. Possibly in inclement weather. Maybe even in life-threatening conditions.

So, in addition to adding a few compasses to your bug-out bag, make sure you know how to use one.

It’s not as simple as some people think. In fact, many people do not know how to use a compass properly.

How to use a compass

Hold the compass flat in the palm of your hand in front of your chest. The most important thing to remember with a compass is that the red needle will always point north.

If you wish to travel in a direction other than north, rotate the compass housing so that the direction you want to travel is perfectly aligned with the “Direction Traveling” line.

Then rotate your body until the red part of the compass needle points to the “N” on the compass housing.

Now you can get moving, but be sure to check your compass readings frequently because it’s easy to get off track when you think you’re going straight. Especially when there are obstacles in front of you.

Also, make sure you’re not holding your compass near any metal objects. Either on yourself or on your supplies. That can cause a false reading due to the magnetization of the compass needle.

Alternative navigation secrets

What if you don’t have a compass? Maybe it got lost or broken as you fled from your home.

The good news is that there are some other ways to navigate in the wilderness. They are not as reliable as a compass, but they are better than nothing.

Use the sun. Even when it’s cloudy, you usually have a pretty good idea of where the sun is and the approximate time of day.

You know that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. If you’re in the northern hemisphere, the sun is due south when it’s at its highest point in the sky, and no noticeable shadows are being cast.

Use a stick. Place a straight stick, approximately three feet long, into the ground. Mark the tip of the shadow with a stone or other object.

Wait about 15 minutes or so until the shadow moves. Mark this new tip of the shadow with another object. Draw a line between the two objects and you now have an east-west line.

Use the moon. The sun may not be out when you’re trying to figure out which direction you should go. In that case you’ll have to use the moon.

If you can see the moon before the sun has set, the illuminated side of the moon will be west. But if you’re looking at the moon after midnight, the illuminated side is east.

How you can prepare now

We’ve talked about what to do in a survival situation in order to find your way to safety. Now let’s wrap it up by discussing what you can do right now to prepare.

Study the geography of your local area. Get to know it so that when the time comes, you’ll recognize it and remember which landmarks are in which direction.

During your study of the area, seek out spots that might serve as a potential bug-out location.

And most important, practice all your navigation techniques in advance, while you’re on a hike. Even if you know exactly where you’re going. A stressful survival situation is not the time to try to learn how to find your way.

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