Basic navigation skills are essential for wilderness survival because they can help you find your way out of a potentially dangerous situation and get you to safety. Whether you’re lost in the woods, stranded on a mountain, or lost at sea, being able to navigate your surroundings can mean the difference between life and death.
One of the most important navigation skills to have is the ability to use a map and a compass. A map is a two-dimensional representation of an area, showing physical features such as rivers, mountains, and roads, as well as man-made structures like buildings and bridges. A compass is a tool that uses the earth’s magnetic field to determine direction. By combining the two, you can determine your location and find the best route to your destination.
To use a map and compass effectively, you’ll need to understand how to read a map. This includes understanding the scale of the map (how much distance is represented by each inch or centimeter), the legend (which explains the symbols used on the map), and the contour lines (which show changes in elevation). You’ll also need to understand how to take a bearing, which is a measure of the direction from your current location to your destination. To take a bearing, you’ll need to align the compass with the straight edge of the map and rotate the bezel (the outer ring of the compass) until the magnetized needle is aligned with the north-south lines on the map. The bearing will be indicated by the degree reading on the bezel.
Once you know your bearing, you’ll need to use the compass to determine your direction in the field. To do this, you’ll need to hold the compass level and in front of you, with the direction of travel arrow pointing straight ahead. Then, rotate your body until the magnetized needle is aligned with the north-south lines on the bezel. The direction of travel arrow will now be pointing in the direction you need to go.
Another important navigation skill is the ability to use natural landmarks to orient yourself. This can be especially helpful if you don’t have a map or compass with you. Natural landmarks can include mountains, rivers, valleys, and other features that are visible from a distance. By using these landmarks to orient yourself, you can determine your location and figure out which direction you need to go.
One way to use natural landmarks is to find two or more that are visible from your location, and then use a compass to determine the direction to each one. For example, if you see a mountain to your left and a river to your right, you can use a compass to determine the direction to each landmark. Once you have the bearings to both landmarks, you can draw a line on a map or piece of paper connecting the two points. The line will intersect at your location.
In addition to using a map and compass, you can also use the sun and stars to navigate. The sun rises in the east and sets in the west, so by determining the direction of the sun, you can determine which direction is east and west. You can also use the position of the stars to determine your location. The North Star (also known as Polaris) is located directly above the north pole and is used to determine north. To find the North Star, look for the Big Dipper constellation, which is a group of seven bright stars in the shape of a ladle. The two stars at the end of the ladle’s handle point directly to the North Star.
In addition to these basic navigation skills, there are also a few other things you can do to help you find your way in the wilderness:
- Always carry a map and compass with you, as well as a flashlight, matches, and a signaling device such as a whistle or mirror. This will give you the tools you need to navigate and signal for help if necessary.
- Pay attention to your surroundings and take note of any landmarks or other features that could be useful for navigation. This could include distinctive trees, rock formations, or other natural features.
- Leave a trail or markers behind you as you move through the wilderness. This can help you find your way back if you get lost, or help rescuers locate you if you become stranded.
- Stay calm and try not to panic. It can be easy to get overwhelmed in a survival situation, but it’s important to keep a clear head and think logically about your next steps.
- Finally, it’s always a good idea to let someone know where you’re going and when you expect to return before embarking on a wilderness adventure. This can help alert authorities if you don’t return as expected, and can make it easier for them to find you if you do become lost.
By learning and practicing these basic navigation skills, you’ll be better prepared to handle any survival situation you might encounter in the wilderness. It’s always a good idea to familiarize yourself with these skills before venturing into the wilderness, and to carry the necessary tools and equipment with you at all times. With a little knowledge and preparation, you can increase your chances of survival and make your wilderness adventures safer and more enjoyable.