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Navigating by Nature  How to Find your Way in the Wilderness

Navigating by Nature How to Find your Way in the Wilderness


Exploring your natural surroundings is a thrill, but if you happen to leave your map or compass behind there’s always a chance of getting lost in the wilderness. This can put many people off from exploring but it doesn’t have to be so tough. With the right knowledge it is entirely possible to navigate with just nature guiding you, and these tips can help you to find your way around by using the sun, stars and trees.

Using the Stars

Using the stars to navigate is a romantic concept and quite tough to pull off, but with enough practice it doesn’t have to be too hard. Many sailors used to navigate with the stars in maritime history and with enough knowledge you’ll be able to do it, too.

The North Star, or Polaris, is the only one in the sky that doesn’t appear to move, so by finding this one you can navigate elsewhere. To find Polaris you need to find the ‘Plough’, which is a group of seven stars that is quite easy to identify as the formation is similar to a saucepan. Polaris is at the end of the handle of the saucepan and you can find true north if you head in its direction. There are also other constellations that can be useful for identifying direction, such as Orion’s belt, but it takes much repetition to be able to judge these accurately.

Using the Sun

To navigate using the sun you need to be aware that it rises in the east and sets in the west. If you live in the northern hemisphere it is due south, whereas if you live in the southern hemisphere it is due north. Look at the sun and align the hour hand of your watch to it. Due south is now halfway between 12 o’clock and the hour hand. This method can also be used for determining west and east, but it should only be used as a rough guide because the Earth tilts on its axis so won’t be completely accurate every time.

Using the trees

While the sun and the stars are the most well-known ways of navigating by nature, there are also some clues back down on Earth that can point us to where we need to go. A lot of people actually prefer these methods as they are seen as more challenging and even more enjoyable. You need to be looking for clues as to how the sun and other elements have altered the environment around you.

Trees are the best example. They are hardly ever symmetrical, instead tending to be heavier and appearing to be leaning slightly to one side. To judge direction you can look for how the tree’s growth has been influenced by the sun and how the shape is altered by the wind. The side that gets the most sun, the southern side in the northern hemisphere, will look more dense and thicker than the other side that is shaded by the tree’s own leaves. Trees that are isolated are much easier to judge, so try walking around it a few times to see what the thicker side is. Branches are also altered by the sun, and branches on the southern side will grow more horizontally compared to the north.
Using wind is a tougher task but still doable. In the UK the prevailing wind appears from the south west, so the tops of trees can often show a combing from south west to north east. Again, isolated trees are the best for judging direction using this method.

Navigating by nature isn’t perfectly accurate but it is still a fantastic way of getting your bearings together, and these tips should help you to get by if you’re exploring the wilderness. When exploring the great outdoors you should come equipped with a range of tools that aid your adventure. Greenman Bushcraft has a large array of survival accessories to help you on your journey and make it one that you’ll never forget.


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