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The great out doors activity guide


Primitive Navigation in the Outdoors

By Greg Rouse

Everyone has been in the outdoors at some point and wondered which direction they where traveling or possibly even been lost. So if you don't have a compass, how does the average person figure out direction of travel?

Here's 3 different methods to try during the daytime:

  1. Shadowless Stick Method: Place a stick in the ground and then move or adjust it until the shadow disappears completely, soon it will reappear with the shadow running roughly East/West.
  2. Shadow Stick Method: Place a stick in the ground and mark the tip of the shadow it casts with a small stick or stake in the ground. Then wait 10 minutes and repeat, after 30 minutes or longer, you'll have a row of small sticks marking the East/West line (North/South is perpendicular to this line).
  3. Watch Method: Take a fine stick and place it in the center of the watch hands (do not use a digital watch), hold the watch level and rotate the whole watch until the sticks shadow is parallel with and/or falling over the hour hand. 1/2 way between the hour hand and 12 o'clock is North/South. (Here's the digital watch version: Just draw a basic watch pattern on paper with the hour hand indicating the correct time and repeat the steps above based on the correct time).

And lets not to forget you nightime travelers, here’s 4 different methods for you to try during the nighttime:

  1. Cresent Moon: Draw a line from tip to tip in a straight line and where the line hits the horizon is roughly South.
  2. Big Dipper Method: Draw a straight line through the two stars that make up the end of the pot (opposite the handle) and continue this line away from the opening of the pot until it intersects a star known as “Polaris” (the North Star) and you have North.
  3. Latitude Method: Look at the North Star and hold your 1st arm straight out and parallel with the horizon, now point your 2nd arm straight at the North Star. The angle between your arms is roughly the degrees latitude (i.e. 45 degrees).
  4. Latitude Stick Method: Put a vertical stick in the ground, align a 2nd stick with the 1st stick and the North Star, then place it vertical in the ground. Now, slide your thumb and eye down the 2nd stick until the North Star is aligned with the tip of the 1st stick. Mark the spot and measure the angle from a parallel line with the ground and the line you created from the tip of the 1st stick to the spot you marked on the 2nd stick. This is your latitude and the 2 sticks are pointing in a North/South line, which means perpendicular to this line is the Easy/West line.

In the final analysis, there's many ways to navigate with a little help from nature. Our forefathers used these methods for years and probably only got lost once in awhile...


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