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Lost in the woods without a compass?


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If you are lost in the woods without a compass but, have an analog watch, you now have a compass.

Hold the watch like a compass and point the hour hand at the sun, halfway between the hour hand and 12 o'clock will be very close to due south.  Even with light overcast, you can still see the location of the sun, heavy overcast, you are going to have to wait.

Learned this in the Air Force during survival training.

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1 minute ago, Texas Lizard said:

Does it work with digital watches???

 

Texas Lizard

Analog only 

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It only works if you can see the sun or where the sun is through the clouds. ;)

 

On a cloudy day it doesn’t work so well.

 

 

Also, whoever came up with the old idea that moss only grows on the north side of trees was never in the great northwest. :lol:

Edited by Pat Riot, SASS #13748
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If you can see the sun and have an idea of what time of day it is you should be able to determine either east or west.

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Most disorientation problems occur in bad weather where you cannot see the sun or topography.   I've walked in circles for hours in the fog and heavy brush on my own ranch, passing and recognizing  particular land-forms or unique vegetation several times while thinking I was walking between the bushes in a particular direction.   It happens, and when you realize you are disoriented, the confusion is profound, to say the least. 

 

A compass phone app (or just a simple compass) is a good thing to have handy in the woods.  A GPS is also great, but they don't usually give you direction unless you are moving.  

Edited by Dusty Devil Dale
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2 hours ago, Texas Lizard said:

Does it work with digital watches???

 

Texas Lizard

Not directly, but if your digital watch says 9:00, you can certainly visualize or draw a circle on the ground divided into quarters and determine 10:30 is half of one of those quarter segments, showing which way south is. If'n ya don't want to go south, 90 degrees to the right is west, 90 degrees to the left is east, and 180 degrees straight behind you is north.

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35 minutes ago, Dusty Devil Dale said:

Most disorientation problems occur in bad weather where you cannot see the sun or topography.   I've walked in circles for hours in the fog and heavy brush on my own ranch, passing and recognizing  particular land-forms or unique vegetation several times while thinking I was walking between the bushes in a particular direction.   It happens, and when you realize you are disoriented, the confusion is profound, to say the least. 

 

A compass phone app (or just a simple compass) is a good thing to have handy in the woods.  A GPS is also great, but they don't usually give you direction unless you are moving.  

Yup, did the same on 500 acres I used to hunt often. Found a known landmark and headed home. Came upon my own snow filled tracks and follow them in reverse only to come back across them! Stopped the hunting effort and reoriented toward home. Came out on a road over a mile away on the far side of properly. Laughed at myself and went to house and called the wife to come get me! Still amazes me how lost I actually was. Can't imagine that happening in a big strange woods. The good thing is this piece had a road on all 4 sides!

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I've seen dense woods like that down in the Ozarks where some relatives live -

 

500 acres is barely 3/4 square mile. If it were square, that's only 1375 yards to a side. I remember lasing an Amazon warehouse in Phoenix some years back at 745 yards long. The Tesla "gigafactory" in Austin is just a hair shy of 3/4 mile long, and covers a hundred acres. :blink:

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It was during a white out blizzard! Even the stone walls looked different! There was roughly a one and half  miles of woods in each direction. Most of which we couldn't hunt. So plenty of unfamiliar territory! Still pretty amazing!!:D

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1 hour ago, Dusty Devil Dale said:

 It happens, and when you realize you are disoriented, the confusion is profound, to say the least. 

 

Happened to me only once, mushroom picking in the Spring woods many years ago. After a while looked up and around and the woods were the same in all directions. That feeling of disorientation and confusion hit me; profound is right. I remembered I should sit down, take a few deep breaths, and figure it out. I did; I was very close to the logging road I came in on. But I definitely remember the feeling, and learned an easy lesson.

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First time spending the summer at my aunt and uncle's farm in the Ozarks. My Uncle spread out a topo map and showed me the lay of the land as well as the boundaries he didn't want me to cross. 

 

If lost all I had to remember is which side of the road that bisected the farm I started out on.  Then walk down hill till I either ran into the river or a paved road. Then I would know which way to turn and make it back. He said it might be a long walk but it was better than walking in circles. Over the years I did end up not knowing exactly where I was but I could always confidently navigate to a place I would recognise.  

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I was lucky, I knew I would find my out eventually. But walking in a circle thing was what amazed me, as much as I felt I was walking straight in familiar terrain. In the middle of a large expense of unknown sure could of been a bit scary. I always carry lighters, so a fire to warm up and wait out the strom was at least plausible!

 

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If I recall correctly there was an Orienteering course in the Scouts with map and compass and without compass.  As SD describes, I used that trick a few times on my property when I first bought it.  Fence line, Rimrock, road - easy once you had seen the map.  I will say, I have a Garmin GPS, and that is a real pleasure.

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3 minutes ago, Eyesa Horg said:

I was lucky, I knew I would find my out eventually. But walking in a circle thing was what amazed me, as much as I felt I was walking straight in familiar terrain. In the middle of a large expense of unknown sure could of been a bit scary. I always carry lighters, so a fire to warm up and wait out the strom was at least plausible!

 

Mythbusters did an episode on that, where they were blindfolded and walking in a big open field. It was astounding how short a distance they had to walk until they were circling back - sometimes making multiple circles in the space of only fifty yards.

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3 minutes ago, Wallaby Jack, SASS #44062 said:

 Do I have to stand on my head to get any of this to work ?  :huh:

 

Nope, Just hold the watch upside down. :rolleyes:

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29 minutes ago, Three Foot Johnson said:

Mythbusters did an episode on that, where they were blindfolded and walking in a big open field. It was astounding how short a distance they had to walk until they were circling back - sometimes making multiple circles in the space of only fifty yards.

That's because for most folks one leg stride is longer than another resulting in going in a circle, unless you're walking towards a landmark.  Desert walking is very obvious.

 

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I have only been lost once in my life and it was not a fun experience. Managed to get back to familiar territory but the feeling was very unsettling.

 

Since learning the trick my Uncle taught me I may not have been able to tell you exactly where I was but I was not lost as I knew with confidence how to get back to familiar territory.

 

BTW the boundaries my Uncle set for me in the beginning encompassed about 1000 acres. By the time I was a teenager the boundary had been expanded to encompass about 5 square miles.

 

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44 minutes ago, Three Foot Johnson said:

Mythbusters did an episode on that, where they were blindfolded and walking in a big open field.

Unless the big open field was something like a football stadium or a baseball diamond, where they turf had been rolled so there were no high spots or low spots, and the grass was all about the height of a putting green, and it had been vacuumed to make sure there were no tree branches or other obstructions, if they blindfolded me and let me go in that big open field I would probably get about 10 feet before I fell on my face.

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One of my brothers bought so property on the east side of Breckenridge Mountain, in the Walker Basin in Kern County.   For the life of me I could not shake the feeling that the mountain was north instead of west.  I KNOW that the Sierra trends north so the mountains would be to the west, but it never felt right.   

 

 

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48 minutes ago, Subdeacon Joe said:

One of my brothers bought so property on the east side of Breckenridge Mountain, in the Walker Basin in Kern County.   For the life of me I could not shake the feeling that the mountain was north instead of west.  I KNOW that the Sierra trends north so the mountains would be to the west, but it never felt right.   

 

 

I have had that sensation of feeling like you knew where west was but it was actually in a different direction and even when you knew which way was which it just didn’t feel right. That happened with me at work near LAX, and I wasn’t the only one. Very strange that everyone felt that North was West. Odd. 
I used to joke that our rail yard was on a geographic anomaly. 
 

 

In high school a friend and I got lost looking for tree leaves for biology class. I needed examples of 50 different leaves from 50 different kinds of trees. Because “we knew everything” :rolleyes: we kept going even after the sun went down. We eventually came to a road that led into a town and were able to call home. 
It turned out that there were a bunch of people looking for us. We were quite embarrassed. 
 

 

Years later I got disoriented in the San Bernardino Mountains in southern CA. I did what I had learned and sat down on a log to see if anyone might come across me or I somehow might get a clue as to my location. After a while I heard a car engine way off in the distance. That was what I needed to find my way back to my truck and my camp. 
You see, I had gotten myself all turned around in a valley. It was cloudy and mid-day. Had I continued I in the direction I thought was correct I would have come across a road at done point but would have been a long way from where I wanted to be. 
It took me a couple of hours to get back to where I parked my truck. 
The next time I went up there I carried a good topo map, a good compass and more ammo. I  had a crappy map and a crappier compass. I had only 5 rounds in my 30-30. I wouldn’t fit 3 rounds in the air snd leave myself with only 2 unless things were really dire, but next time I had more ammo just in case. 

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I was fishing at Magdelena Bay, Baja California Sur, a number of years ago.  Four of us went on a boat excursion  up the Rio de Magdelena for about 10 miles, just exploring.    We came at 3/4 speed  around a tight hairpin turn and smacked into a large marine crocodile, which caused us to run aground (hard) on a sand bar.  We had to rearrange gear in the panga dugout, so I decided to hike the short mile over to the beach on the Pacific side.   

 

To make a very long story shorter, I misread the map scale and it was really about fifteen miles.  The landscape was sand-- high sand dunes, with many over 200' high.  I hiked along, skirting  between them in the 110 degree sun of mid afternoon. 

 

After about half an hour I came upon a huge native indian midden pile, about 200 yards long.   It was full of prehistoric bird and fish bones and there were ornate chert arrow points lying around everywhere.  I knew better than to collect antiquities in Mexico, so I resisted the urge. 

 

I hiked on for an hour, expecting the ocean to appear at any minute.    But suddenly I found myself back staring at that same midden pile, that still had my earlier footprints along its edge.  I felt that horrible lost feeling, but I was also getting into more serious trouble with dehydration. 

 

 I calmed myself down and climbed to the top of the tallest nearby dune.   There, standing atop another dune several miles away, waving a jacket in the air was one of my partners.  I noted the sun position over my right shoulder and kept it locked there as I walked toward my partner --walking not around the dunes but in a solar-marked straight line ditectly over whatever was in my path.   An hour later, I saw the river, boat, and my three companions.  

 

For just a few minutes, I was really seriously lost and potentially life-threatened.  There is just nothing like that realization and helpless/disoriented feeling.  

 

These are the dunes, from 20,000 feet.

Screenshot_20220805-170637_Earth.thumb.jpg.3bb67d99b76e6471bb99e1f994120409.jpg

  

Edited by Dusty Devil Dale
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I have gotten turned around a couple times while hunting. When I realized I was lost I stopped and made an assessment of my situation, then compared landmarks I could see with my maps of the area. I then planned my route out while brewing a cup of coffee.

I have topographic maps of the areas I hunt along with notes for most of the places in a notebook. Most of my navigation is by terrain association and using a compass. Looking back to see where you came from helps with being able to find your way out. I also carry flagging tape to mark my path when following a blood trail as it is easy to get turned around looking for an animal that is wounded.

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Back a few millenia ago, in hunter-gatherer times, one presumably had to learn a lot about navigation by available means, sun, landmarks, tracks, marks, etc. And paying very close attention.

 

It's easy to imagine that one could get several miles out on a solo hunt and literally never be able to find your way back to your village....

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10 hours ago, Eyesa Horg said:

It was during a white out blizzard! Even the stone walls looked different! There was roughly a one and half  miles of woods in each direction. Most of which we couldn't hunt. So plenty of unfamiliar territory! Still pretty amazing!!:D

Got caught in a blizzard in Northern Utah and found a place to shelter and wait.  After a few hours I walked out less the three hundred yards from my ride, cold but otherwise okay.  Carried a small compass ever since.  Fits in a watch pocket just fine.

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12 hours ago, Subdeacon Joe said:

Walk downstream.  

it depends where you are. 

 

In California's Sierras, walking downstream will  almost always get you into steep glaciated rocky gorges with slippery slabs of very steep, polished granite, and dangerous waterfalls.  The xanyons generally require ropes, technical gear, and skilled climbing or rapelling to get out of, not tp mention abundant  rattlesnakes.   

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Even on cloudy or foggy days, you can usually pick out where the sun is either by looking for its reflection off of a knife blade, or using a knife to throw a faint shadow on your thumbnail.

 

If you're in the woods without a knife -- shame on you.

 

Avoid walking in a circle by picking out landmarks and walking towards them. If a distant landmark (e.g., a mountain) is available, use that. If not (e.g., woods) line up two landmarks in the direction you want to go. Make the near landmark LM1 and the further-on landmark LM2. Walk to LM1, then from there make what you used as LM2 your new LM1, and use it to line up a new further-on landmark as a new LM2. Rinse and repeat.

 

Yes, have been lost, and lost with dark coming on sucks.

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I recall when I was a kid making a rudimentary compass with a needle, a piece of wool, a small leaf and a little mud puddle. I read about it in a scouting book or some outdoors book. Maybe it was Field & Stream. They do work…sometimes. 

Now if you go search online for info on how to make a needle compass all these know-it-all “bloggers” say “rub a magnet on your needle ends to end from the eye end”. They say it with such conviction and authority.
Well, Duh! If they have the presence of mind to acquire and carry a magnet to make a rudimentary compass why not get yourself a compass?

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