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How to Navigate without a GPS in the Wild

by TheSurvivor
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An adventure out in the wild is a common ingredient of our bucket lists. But getting lost in the woods all alone doesn’t sound as exciting as the adventure, does it? Sadly, it happens and can happen to you as well. No need to cancel your adventure though! With proper knowledge, you can survive in the jungle for days, until you come back home alive. Imagine a situation where you are lost and you don’t have a GPS or a compass or even a smartphone with you. You don’t know where you are and all of a sudden, you are feeling like that you are in the middle of nowhere. Roaming around without any idea of your location will not help you, it will get you more lost. No need to panic in this case because navigating without a compass or GPS is possible. Before Compass was even invented, how do you think people used to travel and find their way? You can easily navigate without a compass or GPS in the wild.

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1. Using the Sun to Navigate

Using the Sun (How to Navigate without a GPS in the Wild)

Finding the north without a compass is one of the most essential navigation skills. You can find the north just by looking at the sun. You just need to observe the position of the sun. The technique works a bit differently based on your position. It depends on how close you are to the equator and what hemisphere you’re in. There are three different ways to do it. Use the appropriate technique according to your position. 

i) North Hemisphere – The sun’s highest point is directly south every day in the northern hemisphere. The sun will be higher in the sky in summer more than winter and the highest point of its curve is always north. If you observe the sun for a couple of days, eventually you will point the sun’s highest point in the sky. And once you identify south, you can identify north, east and west as well.

ii) South Hemisphere – The process is basically the same, the only difference is that it happens in the opposite direction. So, the sun’s highest point will be North in this case. You are directly getting north here. This method is a very reliable way to identify north and it works in every season. 

iii) Equator – You will find the sun directly over your head at the equator. So, the method is a bit different here. You will have to keep track of the sunrise and sunset to identify the east and the west. 

2. Big Dipper Method to Navigate

Big Dipper Method (How to Navigate without a GPS in the Wild)
Source: Shangwei Fang Photography

Finding the north is the key to navigate yourself. Using the stars to do that is also possible. First, you need to locate the big dipper which kind of looks like a big scoop in the sky after connecting the star dots with imagination visualization. 

It’s not very difficult to find when the stars are visible in the night if the sky is clear. Locate the frontal portion of the dipper, there should be a line connecting two leading stars which are heading towards the sky. That imaginary line is supposed to connect to a bright star approximately 5 times the distance between the two stars which you were following. Now you found the north star. 

After you find the north star, place two sticks on the ground, one around two feet and another short stick a foot or two away. Now line your eyes with the top tip of the sticks with the north star so that it looks like a line. Now draw a line to accurately connect the north star line. If you do this correctly, you can successfully point north. 

3. Two Sticks Method to Navigate

Two Sticks Method (How to Navigate without a GPS in the Wild)

This is also a great method to navigate. You need two sticks to execute this method. First, you have to place a stick vertically so that it stands vertically, then you have to place a second stick right beyond the first stick. Bend down the first stick a bit and line up your eyes in a manner that a straight line connects from your eye with the tip of both the sticks and a star in the night sky. 

After following them accordingly, you have to be patient for a while and you will get the results. You are facing east if the stars are facing up. You are facing west if the stars move down. If the stars move left, you are facing north and if the stars move right, you are facing south. 

4. Using Topological Maps

Using Topological Maps
Source: Westend61

If you can’t find the north with the above-mentioned methods, don’t worry. You only need to find north when you know where to go exactly. You need to know to read topological maps properly because it will come in handy. These maps contain a lot of useful information that you can use to navigate. 

Buying a topographical map is recommended. You can buy a map from any travel supplies store. These maps contain accurate details of a certain place. If you practice reading topological maps, you can pinpoint your location by comparing the details of the map with your surroundings. This way, you can find your way back easily. You can even track water sources with it. 

5. Using Landmarks to Navigate

Using Landmarks to Navigate
Source: Taras Vyshnya

Every landscape has its unique characteristics to separate one from another. Landscape contains landmarks like a lake, trees, mountains, hills, creeks, forest and many other things. You can learn about them by looking at your topological map. 

You might notice some distinct features like a lake flowing from east to west. So, if you get lost, you just have to find out the lake. With the lake, you can find out where is east and west. There might be big mountains, radio towers/ cell towers which can be seen from a distance that can also act as landmarks.

There might be different patterns that the forest follows or a particular spot where most trees are located or even a bunch of particular trees like berry trees. They all can act as landmarks; all you have to do is look for these particular landmarks. 

6. Follow the Edges of the Water

Follow the Edges of the Water
Source: Arctic-Images

Following the water is one of the most effective tools to navigate. By following the water, you can know where you are exactly. If there are a lot of water bodies around, you can learn about them and their surroundings from a topological map. Water can be seen from a remote distance and also easy to find. Water flows downhill and you can find water easily just by following downhill. And if you know the names of the water bodies and the areas around it, you will be totally aware of your location. 

7. Walking in a Straight Line

Walking in a Straight Line
Source: simonkr

Walking on a straight line is a very element to keep your track. Walking in a straight line sounds easy but shockingly, it’s not. Without proper practice, you cannot walk straight, you can easily lose your way because you might think that you are walking straight but you are not. In the wild, the surface is not equally flat, there can be rocks, logs and the surface can be curvy as well. They act as optical illusions and can misguide you easily. 

Learning walking in a straight is not a hard skill to learn. All you have to do is set 3 objects in a straight line which you will follow. As an example, a rock, a tree and a log in a straight line. You walk past the rock, tree and the log and then set another three objects which are aligned and follow them accordingly. By following this method, you can easily avoid optical illusions and help you walk in a straight line. 

8. Navigation Skill Training

Navigation Skill Training
Source: Anawat Sudchanham EyeEm

This is a skill everyone should know. Any unwanted situation can arise anytime, you can’t contemplate such situations. You might not carry navigation to navigate tools or you might not have access to it when in need. If you don’t practice these skills, by the time such a situation arrives, it will be too late. Better safe than sorry don’t you think? You can’t learn all of them at once. Try learning a single skill at once and put yourself to test, whether you can actually do it. If you get positive results, you have successfully passed your test and you can proceed to learn another. 


One of the main reasons for people getting lost is that they get scared, and they panic. Fear can turn your senses blunt and act as an obstacle for you to think straight. One good tip is to take a deep breath until you can start to think straight and gain mental strength and keep in mind that you are not in any real danger, you got this under control. Following these techniques, you can easily navigate in the wild without any compass or GPS.

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