how to navigate in the wilderness

How to Navigate in the Wilderness – Outdoor Navigation Tips

As we begin to immerse ourselves in the wilderness, we tend to go deeper and deeper and eventually everything starts to seem unfamiliar. But that is the beauty of exploring through the forest. We discover the unknowns and be away from our routined life.

In spite of that, we are exposed to the possibility of getting lost in the wilderness. This could lead to unfortunate happenings such as difficulties to return for a very long period of time and we are talking days or even weeks.

Regardless of how intrigue you would want to be raw and engulf yourself in the forest, you have to be acquired with navigating skills and tools to navigate yourself back to the starting point.

How to Navigate in the Wilderness – A General Idea

When it comes to navigating, it can be classified to 2 different categories. The first category would be to use navigating tools such as magnetic compass, topological map and string. Although the tools are physically there, you will still require a certain level of understanding to be able to read it.

The second category would be to use your own senses and sightings to read your directions. This method is known to be more old school but requires a few general knowledge to understand.

Navigating with tools

In a world that is filled with never ending technological devices, we would probably go hiking with a compact size GPS device in our pocket. But what if that device begins to fail or just died on you during a hike, the feeling of uneasiness will start to build within you. Therefore, it will always be safer to have simple navigating tools in your backpack.

Topological map

how to navigate in the wilderness

There are many varieties of topological maps for areas you are interested to hike. You just have to get the hard copy from reliable sources such as from National Geographic.

The first thing you would need to understand while using a topological map is the contour lines. If there is a lot of contour lines bundled together, it means that the elevation of the ground is changing and becoming steeper.

An index line represents every fifth contour line. The elevation variation is always constant between the lines with either a 40-foot or 80-foot elevation. Therefore, closer contour lines indicates a steeper elevation and lines that are further apart shows flatter land.

Another thing to note is the scale on the map. If a map scale is 1:24,000 , this means that each unit represents 24,000 units on the actual landscape. This allows you to calculate approximate distances and travelling time.


Compass for outdoor navigation

Many have heard or used the next tool before and that is the compass. Before you start your journey, you will want to adjust the declination of your compass. Declination refers to the differences between the angle shown as “true north” and “magnetic north”.

The magnetized needle will always point to the direction of the magnetic north pole, which in reality can be slightly different from the direction you are going to which is true north. Therefore, you would need to add at least 20 degrees to the west or east to adjust your compass for accurate readings.

Next you will need to take a bearing from you map to obtain a direction to reach a point. It will provide you the number of degrees to turn towards using your compass. You can achieve this by placing your compass at your current location to the point you are heading towards.

To follow the compass accordingly, hold it in front of you having the direction of arrow pointing out. Then rotate your body until the magnetized needle is within the red arrow guidelines. You are now facing the point you want to head towards so start walking!

Going old school

If your navigating tools were ever to fail you in the midst of hiking, you can always rely on observations from the moon to the sun to determine your rough location. This method is not as fast as having the tools but it is reliable when it comes to worst case scenarios.

The sun

Everyone should know that the sun always rises from the east and sets down on the west. The light rays from the sun produces shadows that can help you figure out your rough location. You can simply do this by having a stick and some rocks.

First you would need find an area with full access to the sun rays and poke one end of the stick to the ground. Take note of the shadow and place a rock on it. That will represent west regardless of where you are.

Wait a few more moments to mark the next reading. Then from there you need to create an East/West line. You will then be facing north when you stand next to your west rock on your left and the second rock on your right.


Navigating through the wilderness is not as hard as you think but it is essential to know. It prevents you from getting lost and provides good safety insurances. Therefore, read up before you decide to wander off.

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