The definition of land navigation is finding your way from one point to another. Let’s start with what to do if you are lost in the woods. This could happen to you! You’ve lost the trail, your phone is dead, and it’s getting dark…what do you do next?
The first point of Leave No Trace is to plan ahead and prepare. Making a plan is one of the most important things to do ahead of time to ensure the best outcome if you do get lost. You have taken the time to tell somebody — your friends and/or family — where you’re going and how long you expect to be gone. So if you find yourself lost or separated, you know that someone knows where and when to start looking for you.
First, stop! Don’t panic. When people get lost they want to react, run around, and this will only make matters worse. You begin panicking, your body starts squirting chemicals and gets you all juiced up. But the most important thing is to stop sit down and get comfortable. Take advantage of the adrenaline and heightened senses.
Second, start working the plan you made before you came out. Remember whistles are good to keep in your pocket, on your keychain, as part of your essentials in your pack. You cannot call aloud or whistle with your mouth as long and as you can blow on a whistle.
Third, orient yourself to the landscape around you. You don’t have to have a phone, a compass, or a map. Use your senses to orient yourself to the world around you and find your way. Look and listen, up and down to gather all the information you can about where you are and where you should proceed.
Look around to see if there is anything around that is familiar, that tells you where you are: a trail blaze, a road, a fence. Roads and streams are long, linear landmarks and not easy to miss. Close your eyes and listen to see if you hear anything around you that tells you what is nearby. Do you hear vehicles? Lawnmowers? Traffic or residences to where you can go for help.
Look up and look down. If you can get higher in elevation for better vantage and look for more information. Roofs or roadways. If you can get lower in elevation, water always runs downhill. Streams may lead to residences, intersect with roads bridges where you can find help.
Finally, find your cardinal directions: north, south, east, west.
The earth is divided into the northern and southern hemispheres. We’re in the northern hemisphere. That means the Sun is always to our south. So if you look around you and find the Sun, you know you’re not looking north. The Sun always rises in the east, always sets in the west. So if you know it’s morning time, the Sun is to your southeast. If you know by your watch or your memory that it’s afternoon, then the Sun is southwest of you. At midday, looking toward the Sun with open arms, your left hand points east and your right hand west.
The Sun to the south will always cast a shadow opposite, toward the northern hemisphere. The rising sun casts shadows west, the setting sun east, and midday to the north. If you clear a space on the ground and draw a circle then put a stick right in the middle. Look for the tip of that shadow from the stick and put a mark where that is. Wait while that shadow moves for an hour or so, then put another stick at the point of that shadow. If you draw a line from one tip of the shadow to the other, that line is pointing east and west. Dissect the circle at a 90-degree angle and you have north and south.