Survival orientation tips when not having a compass!

main-mossHere I am with part 2 of my compass’ post. We’ve all been there, that particular moment when you have absolutely no idea where you are, or how to get back on track. Gps doesn’t work, just fell on the ground and is broken or is simply lying in your car miles away…

At these moments, your mind searches that once passed on knowledge of primitive navigation tips, your grandparents gave you.


At nighttime we have to locate the North Star. Can you? Find Ursa Major, the Big Dipper (USA) / the plough (UK), formed by two stars that make up the outer edge of the cup on the Big Dipper. Connect those two with an imaginary line and extend out, beyond the open end of the cup and you’ll find the North Star (actually the last star in the handle of the Ursa Minor, the Little Dipper / the Little Bear). Now you’ll be able to find all four compass directions.

Do you know how to, during the day? I’m talking about the Northern Hemisphere here. Of course you do, in the early morning or late afternoon, as the sun rises in the East and sets in the West.


When lost in a forest, moss on trees, ah yes think logically, the north face of a tree will have moss growing on it, as that face will be more humid than the south face. By the way a tree will always have fewer branches to the North. In the mountains (and in spring!), snow will melt faster on the south face of the rocks / in south faced slopes. Vegetation will be thicker on those slopes too.


Find a reasonably straight stick and put it into the ground.  The shadow created by the stick, will point in a northern direction.  Not precisely north, but hey you can do this trick more precise, but you’ll have to remember how, when in need, just as with the other method using your analog wrist watch. If you’re not a specialist, like me, you won’t be able to remember that knowledge when panicking.

Any piece of iron held at an angle of 45 degrees and hit with a hammer or heavy object, for about 2 or 3 minutes, then suspended in the middle by a very thin thread, will eventually point north-south. All the marines will tell you this survival trick for making a compass, a 6 inch nail and a hair from your head will do the trick! Lots of survival kits consist of 6inch nails, now you know at least one use for them!

But I don’t need nature to get lost in, just give me any big city and that’s me gone forever in the urban area, asking people, who always manage to give opposite directions, or they’re foreigners and they’re lost as well. Did anyone ever tell you that just knowing in what direction north, east, south or west your destination lies, might help you when looking at the city itself.

If you pass a cemetery, know that gravestones generally face east ( Jesus is supposed to return in the east). Most Christian churches (certainly the older ones) were built along a west to east line. Face the altar and you’re facing east (altars often face the front door so that one will do too, to orientate yourself).

Most satellite dishes will generally face south (not directly, but that’ll help you in the general direction) as their satellites sit in a geosynchronous orbit above the Earth’s Equator.

Lost in the city in the USA? Look at building numbers, they should increase going out of the city center, numbers should go up. Do you see digit numbers? Three numbers indicate you’re within city limits, four within the suburbs and five far far away.

Before buying a compass, check the floating dials (containing the magnetic needle), make sure the sighting wire is straight, the glass and crystal parts are not broken, the numbers on the dial are readable, and most important, that the dial does not stick.

Compasses are delicate instruments and should be cared for accordingly. Make sure to check your compass periodically on a known line of direction. Compasses with more than 3° + variation should not be used.

For simple, easy-to-understand, beginners’ instructions on how to read a compass, many sites on the Internet will give you beginner’s courses.


From one who knows how to get lost


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