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Navigation & Direction Finding

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Fewer things are more disconcerting than suddenly being lost in the wilderness. It can happen in an instant, and when it does, every direction begins to look the same. Panic quickly sets in. If this happens to you, STOP (Sit, Think, Observe and Plan). Otherwise, you will likely make a bad situation worse. Chances are, at the instant you realize you are lost, you are probably not too far from where your path. Unfortunately, panic causes most people to wander further off the trail and to become even more lost.

A personal GPS navigator, a compass and a map will greatly aid your efforts to find your way, and may even save your life.

If staying put fails, try this:

  • Look for signs of water, food, other people and man-made structures.
  • Avoid dangerous obstacles such as cliffs and jagged rocks.
  • If going up a steep incline, move in a zig-zag or switchback pattern.
  • If you have a whistle, blast it periodically; if without a whistle, yell.

To determine direction, use the shadow-tip method:

  • First, find a straight stick about 3 feet long.
  • Locate a fairly level, brush-free spot where the stick will cast a definite shadow.
  • Push the stick into the ground so it stands upright. It need not be perfectly vertical to the ground.
  • Mark the tip of the shadow cast by the stick.
  • Wait until the shadow moves 1 1/2 to 2 inches (approximately 10 to 15 minutes).
  • Mark the tip of the second shadow.
  • Draw a line from the first mark through and about a foot beyond the second mark.
  • Stand with your left foot on the first mark and your right foot on the end of the line you drew.
  • If you are in the northern temperate zone, you will be facing north.
  • If you are in the southern temperate zone, you will be facing south.

For more detailed information about direction finding, see Chapter 18 ("Field-Expedient Direction Finding") of the U.S. Army Survival Manual.


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