How to find the right direction without a compass?

So you’ve got seriously lost after entering a vast forest. While you may have your map with you, it’s bad luck as you forgot to bring a compass and even worse, your phone’s battery died. Yet, the map says that the nearest exit is situated northwest. Well, don’t fret! There are many ways you can find the direction without a compass and help you get out of this unpleasant situation.

If night time kicks in and you’re stuck in the woods, the best way you can do is rely on the stars for guidance. Locate the North Star, and you’ll quickly identify where the north, south, east, west are. While it may sound an easy way to find direction, the Polaris, or the North Star, can be quite hard to find. A common misconception about the Polaris is that it is the brightest star. But, no. Sirius actually owns the credit for being the shiniest star in the night sky.

So, if you’re having a hard time finding the North Star, a workaround is finding the Big Dipper and look for the two stars at its blade. Sketch an imaginary line through them and continue the path upwards to reach the Polaris.

However, things will be a bit trickier if you’re in the Southern Hemisphere as the Polaris is only visible in the Northern Hemisphere. What you can do instead is to find four shiny stars that compose the Southern Cross. Once you have located it, sketch a visionary line that will pass through the two stars that make the vertical axis. Continue drawing five times the length, and the point it will be pointing to is the south pole.

If you’re lucky enough to be stuck while it is still daytime, then the sun can be your best ally. When it is its peak or in the middle of the sky, shove a stick on the ground and draw a mark on the shadow’s top. Let 30 minutes pass and mark the shadow’s tip again. The line in the center of the two points will be the east and west.

An analog watch can also be useful in helping you find the directions sans your compass. Hold the clock on your palm horizontally and point the hour hand towards the sun. Then, sketch a visionary line between the hour hand and the noon mark to get the north-south line.

Now, look at the sun. Remember that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. Through that, you can determine which way is going north and which way is going south. If it is daylight saving time, make sure to wind your watch first for an hour before doing the same process.

Nature also has its own way of telling you the correct direction. For instance, you use moss to locate the north. Moss tends to only survive in damp conditions and shadowy areas. For countries situated in the northern hemisphere, the sun moves east to west but always follows a part in the south. This scenario results in areas facing north having the smallest exposure from the sun. Thus, allowing moisture to build-up and make the area damp.

To avoid any confusion, you can search for moss growing on vertical structures, such as trees, rocks formations, or other areas where water doesn’t usually run or collect.

Hillsides can also give you cues on which direction to take. Search for flora that thrives in drier and hotter climates, such as cacti. These dry-loving plants are more abundant on the south-facing hillsides in the northern hemisphere and the other way around if you’re in the southern hemisphere.

Lastly, you can improvise a compass yourself. Stroke a needle extensively to one direction against natural fibers to magnetize it. Then, place it on a floating leaf on stagnant water, and it should follow the north-south line.

More Readings:

Compass (Wikipedia)

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