Basic Navigation

There is one emergency situation that almost everyone in the world has found them selves in, that is being lost. You probably have not been in a life threatening situation, but there probably has been a time in your life where you have been disoriented and not sure of your location.

If you are lost like so many people have been, the only way to get out of that situation is to learn simple navigation skills. This is a skill that can be either really simple such as finding your way around a large zoo, to being able to get back to civilization from the middle of a million acre forest.

There are a few absolutely basic navigation skills that every one should know just in order to help themselves out in daily life. You might never need the skill of finding north without a compass, but if you happen to find yourself in a situation that you do, you will be quite happy that you learned these skills.

Basic Navigation Skills

There are three things that I believe that everyone should learn. This skills are quite simple and might just save your life some day. If however, it doesn’t save you life, it might still help you out of a jam. The three navigation skills that ever one should learn are all related to being able to find out which way north is. Once you know exactly which way north is, you should be able to figure out which direction you need to go.

Basic Navigation Skill Number 1 – Look Up

The first way to find north is to look up. It is almost as simple as that. There are things in the sky that remain constant and you can easily use these as navigation tools. The sun, depending on the time of year and your location on the planet is going to always be in a consistent location. You can look at the sun to guide you. If you are in the Northern Hemisphere, the sun is going to be South of you for most of the year. The only time that it will be north of you is during the summer.

You can also use the sun as a navigation aid if you have enough patience to watch its direction of travel. The sun always travels across the sky in an East to West direction. (This is actually in illusion caused by the rotation of the earth, but for the purposes of demonstration and ease of instruction, I’m going to use the mental imagery that mankind has had for countless thousands of years.) If you wait long enough you will be able to figure out which ways East and West are. Some might not know this so I just want to remind you all that the points on a compass can be found by remembering “Never Eat Soggy Worms” which the first letters correlate to the points of the compass in a clock wise direction.

I suppose it would be quite irresponsible of me to tell you to stare at the sun for a few hours while trying to figure out which way North is, so here is a much safer, easier and less time consuming way of using the motion of the sun to figure out which way is North. Jam a stick in the ground. Hold on, there,s more. Look at the shadow that the stick make and place some kind of marker at the end of that shadow.

Now you can head out to do some other survival stuff like eat a tree or something. You will have to wait a few hours before you check your stick.

Once you give that stick another check, you can put another marker where the end of the shadow is. Draw a line between those two points. The first point that you made will be the direction of west and the second will be east. If the East point is on your right side, and the West point on your left, you will be facing North. So I have just prevented you from going blind by staring at the sun. You can send your thank you letters through my contact page.

If you happen to have an analog watch with you (the kind with minute and hour hands) there is another trick to use that will help you find North. It is easy. What you do is point the hour hand of your analog watch at the sun. You then make an imaginary line between the hour hand that is pointing at the sun and the twelve o’clock line. This line is going to be oriented in a North and South direction.

This is a neat little trick, but the reality of the situation is that no one uses analog watches any more, a lot of people don’t even wear watches anymore. So if you can imagine a watch and where the hour hand is pointing, you will be still able to use this trick.

Due to the nature of the globe that we live on, the sun is not available all day long as a trusty navigation aid. It is during these times that we must look up to the stars. There are times when the stars are obscure by the glow of city lights, but if you are lost in a city at night, you are probably going to want to find a different way to navigate instead of using the stars.

Using the stars to navigate and find North is something that humans have been doing for as long as they have been recording their history, probably longer. The position of the stars is never going to change so as long as you can find the North Star, you are going to be able to navigate at night for your entire life.

How to find the North Star

The best way to find the north star is to find the big dipper constellation. Find the line of the side of the dipper that is opposite of the handle, follow that straight up to the North Star. The name of this star is Polaris, like pole-aris, pretty neat eh?

This is always going to be North. This star is very bright, you are going to see it most of the time and you even might be able to see it through the light pollution of bright city lights.

If you are in the south pole, there is no major star that will point you directly South, but there is the Celestial Cross which has been used by mariners to aid in their navigation.

Much like the sun, those stars in the sky appear to be moving from east to west, so as long as you have the patience to sit and watch the beautiful sky at night, you will be able to work out which way is North. The stick in the ground trick will not work for the stars because they just ain’t bright enough for that.

There is another celestial object that you can use to find North, its the Moon. You can easily use the moon to find North by watching the direction that it traverses the sky. The moon travels east to west, so you can use the same techniques that you used to watch the sun and the stars to watch the moon. Just so you know, during a full moon, it will cast defined shadows, so you can use the stick in the ground technique that I describes earlier to save yourself some time and patience.

I hope that you found north using these techniques and did not get a sore neck from looking up too much. The next basic way to find North is literally the exact opposite of looking up.

Basic Navigation Skill Number 2 – Look Down

well, Not directly down. Unless you have a compass built into the tip of your shoe, looking directly down is not going to aid you in navigation. I mean that you should be looking at the earth around you. There are things on the ground that can aid in your basic navigation skills.

One thing that you are going to find while looking at the earth around you is trees. Trees are absolutely abundant in most parts of the world and there are two ways that you can use trees to determine which way is North. The first way is to look at the leaves. Tree leaves generally point towards the sun and in the northern hemisphere, the sun is going to be in the South. This means that there is going to be more growth on the south side of the tree. Some times you will be able to notice that the leaves are all pointing in the same direction. That direction is going to be south.

The other way to determine north by observing trees is to see which side of the tree has more moss on it. Moss is a shade loving plant, so in the Northern hemisphere, you are going to find moss on the north side of a tree. That one is pretty easy to remember and straight forward, but don’t rely on it completely because if you are in a dense dark forest, the moss is going to grow wherever it wants.

I suppose that I should have put that watching the suns shadows creeping across the ground paragraph down here in the look down section, because technically it is looking down. This little blurb should cover it. If you don’t know what I’m talking about then you should probably re-read the whole article. Do it now!

The absolute easiest way to find north while looking down is to be looking down at a compass. If you keep a compass with you, you are not even going to need to know all of that stuff that I just wrote. I might have just destroyed my entire morning of writing this article with that one little tip. If you don’t have a compass, those guidelines about finding north is going to help you out considerably.


Justin Trovrt has been in plenty of situations that require a level of survival instincts that daily life can not provide. He knows that knowledge is power and wished to share some of his power with anyone who is willing to listen. Follow him at

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