How to Navigate through the Wilderness

primitive survivors wilderness

There is an old adage that says, β€œYou can only become lost if you have a place to go and a time to be there.” Sounds very encouraging when you’re in the wilderness and unable to find your way, right? With the right skills and techniques, you’ll never be lost in the wild again!

The truth is, finding your way does not necessarily require fancy navigation tools, especially when you’re trying to stay thrifty. Everything you’ll need is already in your backpack or in nature! Read on as we discuss basic navigation skills that will lessen the chance of you getting off-track in the wild!

Make Your Own Compass

To make a compass, have a small container of water with you. You also need a large leaf, seashell, or plastic jar lid, a compass needle like a sewing needle, and a way to suspend the needle on top of the water. A paperclip, razor blade, or safety pin will also work. To work, however, your needle has to be magnetized. Going in the same direction, rub a magnet against the needle 25 – 30 times. Float the needle on a leaf in the water and wait for it to orient itself from North to South.


When using a map and a compass, remember that the magnetic poles of the Earth are located at different locations than the geographic poles. Hence, a north-pointing compass will always lead you a little astray from the geographical north on a map. For instance, in California, the compass north is 14 degrees east of the map north. On the east coast compass north is 10-25 west of map north.

Using Your Watch

With a watch, hold it at 12 o’clock to your left. Then, move your arm so the hour hand points at the sun. The spot halfway between the hour hand and 12 o’clock is south.

Use the Sun to Tell Direction and Time

The sun shines most of the day in the southern part of the sky, so shade is prevalent on norther exposures. Remember this general rule, along with the fact that moss grows thickest on the shady side of trees and rocks. With that in mind, you can determine your cardinal points even on a cloudy day.

Watch the Night Sky

In the northern hemisphere, use the north start to measure your approximate latitude. All you have to do is point one arm at the star, stretch the other arm horizontal, and estimate the angle. To find the North Star, look for the β€˜Big Dipper’ constellation first. Follow the line created by the two points at the front of the β€˜ladle’ directly to the North Star. Named β€˜Polaris’, the North Star is also the tip of the handle of the β€˜Little Dipper’.

Follow the River

Water always runs downhill to form tributaries and rivers until they reach the ocean, bay, or lake away from the North Pole. This flow, however, may be interrupted by the topography of the land, sometimes completely changing the directional movement of the water. The only way to know the river’s path is to research the area before going in.

Take note of the following:

  • Water runs downhill
  • If you follow it, you will reach the confluence of the river and another body of water

Stay Found!

Who knew that a single star can tell you a lot about where you should walk or what direction you are going? Learn to read what nature is telling you about the terrain and you won’t have any problem finding your way during your adventures and survival situations. After trying out our tips, you’ll be more prepared for any outdoor event that may come!

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