Substitutes for a Compass
By Charlie Reitze

Are you lost? Did you know that the North Star is the only one that's fixed in its location? Any time you look at the North Star, that's exactly where it's at - in the north. Once you know where the North Star is, you will likewise know where south, east, and west are. To locate the North Star, first find the Big Dipper. Find the two stars that are the farthest from the handle. These two stars form half of the bowl. The outer-most star, the one on the top of the bowl, points to the North Star.

When you find the North Star, you'll find that it is the outer-most star in the handle of the Little Dipper. Knowing this will confirm that you, in fact, have located the North Star. Knowing this will also allow you to fix a point in any of the four directions and head towards it. After all, you do not want to walk in circles, as people usually do. A left-handed person will most often walk in circles to his left, while a right-handed person will circle to his right. Below is a diagram of the constellations that will allow you to find the North Star. Because I'm not an artist, I hunted around and found the picture in a Boy Scout Fieldbook.

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What about during the daytime when there are no stars? If you know how to use a watch, it's easy. Your wristwatch or pocket watch is a compass. On a regular watch, point the hour hand toward the sun. Mark a point halfway between the hour hand and 12 o'clock. In the northern hemisphere, the midpoint is south.

If you use a digital watch and you're an outdoorsman, shame on you! However, if you do use a digital watch, simply draw a clock face on a piece of paper, on the ground, or in the snow, and do the same thing you would do with a regular watch. Once you know the time, as long as you know where the numbers on a watch are, you can locate south, thus allowing you to immediately know the other three directions. Once you get good at it, you don't even need a diagram. With your watch on your wrist, if it's four o'clock, point the four towards the sun. Halfway between the 4 and the 12 is south.

If it's cloudy and you can't see the sun, it's still possible to locate the sun. I always take a reflector of some kind with me when I go camping, something that will easily reflect the sun rays. A small mirror works well. Take your mirror or whatever you have, hold it in the palm of your hand, make sure it's facing towards the sky, now slowly, standing in place, rotate 360. Even though you can't see the sun, the sun's rays will reflect off your mirror; that is, your mirror will show brighter when the sun's rays hit it. Once you have located the sun, point the hour hand toward the sun and you have your direction by using the above method.

Charlie Reitze is a published author and outdoor writer. He also is a graduate of Tom Brown's Wilderness Survival School.


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