How To Find True North Without a Compass

If you are reading this article you are either lost in the woods with your laptop or you plan to get lost in the woods in the near future.  Either way, these simple steps are an excellent way to get you out of this bind. I may joke around, but this is serious stuff. The longer you stay lost the lesser your chances of being found.  If you have an idea where the nearest ranger station is, try going there. The problem is that when you are lost in the woods, you don't really know which direction you are going. Unless you know some important tricks, you'll likelywind up going in circles.

There are several ways to find true north without a compass. Here are just some of the things I have come up with that might prove useful to you.

  1. Make your own compass. When you don't have a compass you can make one of your own. All you need is a piece of metal like a paper clip or a needle from your sewing kit, a cork and a small basin.  Rub the needle to something metal, like your watch or your belt buckle to magnetize it. Stick it to your cork and let it float in your basin. The magnetized tip should point true north.
  2. When you are stuck, stick it. Another method you can use is the stick method. Look for the longest stick you can find. Then walk around until you come across flat sunny spot. This should be good to create your sun dial.  Stick your stick to the ground pointing toward the sun in such a way that you don't see a shadow. Now, you wait. What you are waiting for is a 6 inch shadow. That shadow is pointing east.  Face the same direction as the shadow - 90 degrees to the left of that shadow is true north.
  3. Start navigating with the stars. If it took you till nightfall to notice that you are lost then you don't have to wait until daylight before you can find true north. Much like the pirates of old, you can navigate using the stars. Look up into the sky and search for Ursa Minor or the little dipper.  It is a collection of seven stars that look like a little dipper, if it wasn't obvious enough. The tip of the dipper's handle is the North Star and it never veers more than 1 degree away from true north.

Now that you have an idea on how to find true north, it is time to get yourself out of this mess.  Make sure you have all your essentials before you go on your brave journey. Your knife, match and water need to be securely placed in your bag.

Last, but not least, getting your bearings is only half the battle; you have to be able to keep from walking in a big loop, which is what many people do without knowing it. Once you find true north and set out in your desired direction, pick a distant object in that precise direction (whether it's a tree or a rock or anything else) and, keeping your eye on it, walk to it.  Once you arrive at it, choose your next distant object in this direction and do the same.  Keep repeating this process uintil you're not lost anymore.  


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