We live in the era of smartphones and Google Maps. The days when we would have to read a map to navigate the country’s highways seem far behind us now. Still, it’s still very important to make sure that you know how you find your way home if you ever get lost, especially if you’re out in the wilderness and in unfamiliar land. After all, the battery on your smartphone can’t last forever, and there are no outlets in the wilderness.
One of the most important tools that a camper carries is a compass. If you get lost without it, though, there are a few ways to reorient yourself. If you have a map of the area with you, that’s a good place to start. Many experts suggest using at least two methods of orienting yourself, though, before you decide on a direction. Here are some other options.
If you’re familiar with some star patterns, you can use them to figure out which direction you’re facing. The North Star is – as its name suggests – in the northern sky. If you can’t find that one, you can use Orion’s belt – it points east to west, and the sword that hangs down from the belt points south.
If you’re out for a while, you may notice the movement of the sun across the sky. The sun rises in the east, and sets in the west, so use its movement to figure out direction. Savvy outdoor experts can even tell the time by how high in the sky the sun is, a beneficial skill when you need to know how much daylight you have left to find your way back to camp.
You probably have heard that moss typically grows on the north side of trees and rocks, which is often true in the Northern Hemisphere. In a pinch, it can often be used as a fallback way to orient yourself, but keep in mind that this isn’t a definitive rule. Moss prefers shady and moist locations, which doesn’t always mean the north side of trees. That means if you want the best likelihood of getting an accurate read from moss, you’ll want to look at trees in an area that gets a lot of sunlight, as moss will grow anywhere it pleases in cool, shaded areas. Make sure you use a few different rocks or trees to confirm, and try to get a read from the sun or stars to truly orient yourself. This method is a good choice when you’re lost on a cloudy day, though, when you aren’t able to see the sun or stars.
For more wilderness tips, be sure to check out our other How-To’s.
Stay safe, and happy hiking from Tom and Michel!