How to Navigate Without Using a Map, Compass, or GPS

Many people like to boast that they have an outstanding sense of direction, and can get themselves from one place to another without using a map or compass. In reality, we are helped to get around by gadgets such as sat nav systems or GPS apps on mobile phones, and road signs at every junction showing us what way to go. Take people out of the city and out of their comfort zones and navigating becomes altogether more difficult. It is very easy to lose your bearings when in an unfamiliar area, and taking the wrong turn out on the hills in bad weather can make even the most experienced walker disorientated and lost.

Navigate Using the Sun

One of the very oldest methods of navigating is by using the sun. The sun rises in the east and sets in the west, and at midday the sun is due south. If you have a watch, you can use these facts to work out which direction is which.

Navigate Using the Sun Instead of GPS

This can be useful if you know which direction you need to be heading in. In the UK navigation by the sun can be tricky, as on days where there is heavy cloud cover it can be hard to determine where in the sky the sun is.

Navigate Using Rivers

Rivers will always run towards the sea. Following a river will mean that you will eventually arrive at the coast, but if you have no idea where you are, there is no way of knowing how long that will take. It may not always be possible to follow the river if it runs through a gorge or goes over a waterfall, and if a river needs to be crossed keeping your kit dry can be difficult. A waterproof exped Bergen liner will help keep your bags dry, but it is best to stay out of the water where possible.

Navigate Using Plants and Trees

In the UK, our prevailing wind direction, that is the direction the wind comes from most often, is the south west. If there are no other landmarks to help with navigation, trees may give a clue if you look carefully at their branches.

Navigate Using Trees

On exposed hillsides or moors, trees will be bent away from the prevailing winds. Also, the orangey coloured lichen which is often found on trees in the UK is found always on the north side of tree trunks. This combination of factors can help you determine the points of the compass using plants.

Navigate Using Buildings

In the UK, churches as most commonly built on an east to west alignment. It is not always the case, but if when lost you can see a church, it is worth considering the position of it along with other factors such as the lichen on trees or the position of the sun to try to work out which way you are heading. Navigation without using maps and compasses is not easy, but was the way our ancestors got around the UK well before the days of GPS, exped Bergen liner to keep kit dry, sat navs and the Ordnance Survey made things a lot easier.

Jerry Adkins

Thanks for visiting GPS Bites. I started the website in 2012 to give advice on all matters regarding GPS and navigation. Prior to this I was the marketing manager for a global GPS device company.

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