Frequently in this space, we will consult a different entry in the 1987 book The Modern Man’s Guide to Life to see how the advice therein has aged. On Monday, we discussed surreptitiously riding the rails; today, we address a few ways to orient yourself in the wild.
The Modern Man should know at least a few things of a Bear Grylls-type nature: You know, not necessarily that you can drink your own piss in a bind, or that you can sleep in a slaughtered camel, but practical stuff that will actually help you when you’re out camping or hiking. Say, for instance, how to navigate using things that exist naturally here on God’s green earth.
On orienting with a compass:
Align the compass needle with true north, then select a distant landmark in the same direction you’re heading. When you arrive at the landmark, find another one and repeat the process.
Hey, a compass will work when your phone runs out of batteries, and you should already know how to figure out your east from west and north from south. If not, I’m glad you’re here. However, you might not have a compass, because it’s 2015, and technology has made things so easy that it’s also easy to forget the timeless tools available to you. So if you don’t have a compass, you have a few options:
The North Star (a.k.a. Polaris) is located on a straight line from the outside edge of The Big Dipper’s bowl; the two stars that describe the outer edge of the bowl are, in fact, called the pointer stars because they establish a straight line to Polaris, which shines brightly at a point about five times the length of their distance from one another. Meanwhile, back on Earth, true north lies on the horizon directly below the North Star.
I, for one, am more of a visual learner, so I’d suggest looking this up on Google or something before you strike out into the mountains alone, so you really know what you’re looking for. You can also navigate using the following two methods:
By the sun: Stick a short, straight stick into the ground so that it casts no shadow. When a shadow emerges about six inches long; it will be pointing east.
By the moon: The same method used to determine the direction of the sun (above) will also work with moonlight, provided there’s enough of it to cast a shadow.
Finally, here’s one good reason to wear an analog watch next time you hit Yosemite or wherever you may find yourself off the grid:
First, your watch must be set to standard time. Hold your watch flat and place a short piece of straw upright at the point corresponding to the tip of the hour hand. Then, turn the watch and straw together until the shadow cast by the piece of straw falls along the hour hand, at which point the hand will be facing the sun. The direction south will lie along a line extending from the center of the watch halfway between the hour hand and the number 12.
It wouldn’t be a bad idea to give all of these little tricks a try before you actually head off into the woods. So when you strike out alone, man v. wild, you’ve got a fighting chance.