2011-06-25

Survival Guide: Find North

Regardless of whether your life is in immediate danger, it's important to always know where you are, at least in relation to where you came from or where you're going. One of the easiest ways to sense your relational location, is to know how to find North (and South and East and West).

There are a few ways we can find North, but environmental conditions will affect which ones you can use in any given situation. (As will also be true with future guides, if you can't use any of the methods listed below for whatever reason -- especially weather conditions. Find shelter nearby and stay there. Seriously.)

Once you're facing North, remember: South is behind you, East is on your right, and West is on your left.

["Cardinal direction" - Wikipedia]

DAY-TIME, SHADOWS CLEARLY VISIBLE
STEP 1: Stab a stick into the ground so it's pointing straight up.
STEP 2: Mark the tip of its shadow with a small distinguishable object.
STEP 3: Wait a bit.
STEP 4: Mark the tip of the shadow with another small distinguishable object.
STEP 5: Stand with your left foot at the first object and your right foot at the second object. (Not enough room to do that with both feet? Repeat Steps 3 and 4.)
STEP 6: Look straight ahead. That's North.
NIGHT-TIME, SHADOWS CLEARLY VISIBLE FROM A BRIGHT MOON
(Use the same method as described above for the Sun.)
NIGHT-TIME, STARS CLEARLY VISIBLE
STEP 1: Find this constellation...
Northern Hemisphere: Ursa Minor (Little Dipper) [Wikipedia]
Equator: Orion [Wikipedia]
Southern Hemisphere: Southern Cross [Wikipedia]
STEP 2: Locate a specific area in the sky...
Northern Hemisphere: The tip of Ursa Minor's tail (the end of the Dipper handle) is Polaris (the North star).
Equator: Find Orion's raised arm, belt, and his legs.
Southern Hemisphere: Imagine a line from the long end of the cross about four times the long width. Imagine a point at the end of that line.
STEP 3: Position yourself.
Northern Hemisphere: Face Polaris.
Equator: Position yourself so Orion's feet are "behind" you and his raised arm is "forward".
Southern Hemisphere: Face directly away from that imaginary point.
STEP 4: Look straight ahead. That's North.
SUNRISE OR MOONRISE
STEP 1: Position yourself so that the rise is at your right.
STEP 2: Look straight ahead. That's mostly North.
SUNSET OR MOONSET
STEP 1: Position yourself so that the set is at your left.
STEP 2: Look straight ahead. That's mostly North.
COOL, MOIST CLIMATE
STEP 1: Find a tree or rock which is -- or usually is -- casting a large shadow.
STEP 2: Locate the side with the most moss, moisture, or snow.
STEP 3: Position yourself...
Northern Hemisphere: Face away from the located side.
Southern Hemisphere: Face the located side.
STEP 4: Look straight ahead. That's mostly North.
ANYTIME, CLOUDY WITH SOME WIND
STEP 1: Watch the cloud movement. Fronts generally move West to East.
STEP 2: Position yourself so that clouds are coming toward your left and away from your right.
STEP 3: Look straight ahead. That's probably North.
As I stated briefly before listing these techniques, it is very important that you find shelter in the immediate area and not wander. I will try to discuss this more in a future survival guide, so to keep it simple here: you risk injury and death, decrease the odds of rescue, and increase your panic when you are lost. So, if you don't know where you need to go, stay put until you do or until you're found.
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