The wilderness is a welcome escape from modern life. A chance to “get lost” in the wilderness. While theoretical “lost” is highly desirable, actually getting lost can be a terrifying and dangerous experience. This article covers a few navigational methods to help you get the most out of your outdoor adventures.
Navigating With A Compass and A Map
The ten essentials everyone should carry with them outdoors according to the Boy Scouts of America are:
- Clothing for Warmth (Mylar Emergency Poncho)
- First Aid
- Sun Protection (Hat and Sunscreen)
- Extra Food
- Water Storage and Water
- Emergency Shelter
We’ve covered a number of these topics in past articles and today we will focus on the first item on the list. A compass and map to help you navigate even when you have lost your way.
True North vs Magnetic North
The concept of true north and magnetic north can trip up a beginner outdoors person and even some more intermediate adventurers. True north is a fixed location on the globe that all maps align with. Compasses work by aligning themselves with the magnetic pull of the earth, they point to the magnetic north. Magnetic north is not a fixed point. It shifts as the earth’s magnetic field moves. The difference between true north and magnetic north is referred to as declination.
The PREPARED4x Compass has easy-to-read and easy-to-use declination tools built-in. The user manual can provide you with in-depth information on declination and orienting your compass, but the actual declination will be based on your geographic location. The map you are using should have the declination variance listed on it. After you have adjusted your compass for declination you can use it to navigate using a map.
How to Navigate Using a Compass and a Map:
- Place your compass on the map so that the straight side of the baseplate lines up between your current position and your destination.
- Rotate the compass housing until the orienting lines on the compass are parallel to the meridian lines on the map with N pointing north.
- Lift your compass from the map and hold it horizontally in your hand. Turn yourself and the compass until the red end of the needle is inside the red north/south arrow. Now the sighting cross and sight will point towards your destination.
Remember metal objects, such as keys, wristwatches, and some survival gear, can affect the magnetic pull of the compass needle and may result in compass inaccuracy.
Blazing a Trail
The concept of “blazing a trail” comes from the actual practice of “blazing” trees to aid in navigation. Blazing is the process of creating a highly visible mark on a tree to help you navigate back the way you came. It also helps rescue workers follow your path in the instance you become injured or lost.
Traditional blazes were cut into trees using a survival knife, peeling away the dark outer bark to reveal the lighter inner wood. Today it is more common to use flag tape or paint to decrease the risk of damaging the tree. Cutting into a tree exposes it to bugs and diseases and could kill the tree.
To blaze a tree, mark it so the mark faces the direction you will be traveling. You should be walking with your back to the blaze. Blaze the second tree about a hundred yards away. You should easily be able to see your blaze from tree to tree. A denser wooded area may require more blazes, a less heavily wooded area may require fewer.
Some official parks and nature trails also already have “blazes” or trail markers attached to trees to help aid you in your navigation.
Make Yourself Visible
If you find yourself truly lost and in need of rescue. Do everything you can to make yourself highly visible. You should always tell a friend or family member what areas you will be exploring and tell them what day or time you expect to be home. If you become lost or injured this allows rescue workers to have an idea of where to begin looking for you.
Be PREPARED for Wilderness Navigation
We know it can be tempting to disappear into the wilderness and feel the freedom of roaming without direction, but when exploring new areas it is important to always put your safety first.
Do you have any favorite navigation methods? Or any stories of getting lost in the woods? We would love to hear about them. Reach out to us on Facebook or Instagram with the @prepared4x tag or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stay Safe! Stay Prepared! Stay PREPARED4x!