The guide for lost people.
You are moving (by foot, by car, by whatever) through the landscape
until, well, this area does not look right....where am I ?
- First and most important rule: Do not panic. Stay where you
are and think. When did you lose the track ? What is the last
location which you definitely can locate ?
- Second rule: There is no "direction sense". No, no even
natives like Inuit or Aborigines have it. Once you are blind,
you cannot locate directions. Make the following experiment:
Start in the middle of a football field, close your eyes and
try to move out of the field by walking straight, a seeing partner
walks with you and tells you when you are out of it. Just try it.
It does not work, you are not walking straight, it is even
likely that you cannot leave the field at all.
Tricks like limping with the stronger leg do not work either, forget it.
- Third rule: Do not leave the trail. No shortcuts, no "I am sure it must be meters away".
How do I find directions (north and south) ?
I must admit that I find the idea of building an own compass not so hot. The problem is: Commercial compasses are calibrated against deviation (disturbances of the magnetic field), so your self-built compass could easily deceive you. Even good compasses can be deceived if you are in the vicinity of iron (iron ore). Another problem is that the compass has a magnetic declination, an angle between true north and magnetic north:
The tips using indicators like moss on trees etc. are very uncertain indicators. Do not use them.
Better is the sun and the stars: They cannot show the wrong direction. Find Polaris to find north and the Southern Cross to find south. If you have forgotten how both look: aim at a star at the horizon, it will normally move. The more it is goes exactly vertical up/down, the more it is near East or West, if it is going up, it is East, if it going down, it is West.
The method of ByteCommander with the watch is a thumb rule. It works because we defined noon as the time when the sun is at its highest point and in this case the sun is always exactly in the south/north. Because we have DST and time zones be aware that the local sun time can have a considerable difference (one or even two hours with DST) from your watch time ! The sun is moving around in 24 hours while the clock moves two times in 24 hours, so we need to half the angle between 12 o' clock and the hour hand.
North and South could be also found exactly with the sun if you have time. You need at least know at which hemisphere you are currently, north or south. Stick a stick into the ground and draw a circle around it. Mark where the shadow crosses when it lengthens and when it shortens. The exact middle
between those points and the origin of the stick marks south (northern hemisphere) or north (southern hemisphere) !
The following tips assume that your GPS device is broken. It is
quite seldom, but people unlearn navigation if they are too
dependent on the device.
I am in the wilderness, but I have a map.
Stay where you are and look for outstanding points (mountain peaks,
railroads, roads, rivers). If you have a compass and can measure
the direction, the better. You simply find out the direction for
the line of sight from your point for two outstanding points, their
crossing is your position. If you do not have a compass, mark the
positions of the points with something (needles would be ideal).
Hold the map steady and sight out with one eye so that outstanding point
and map point are in a beeline. Mark the line of direction without
moving the map and move your eye so that the other point/map point
are in line. The crossing point is your current position.
If possible, try to get as many points as possible. Maps could contain
errors, sometimes even deliberately to expose if someone makes a copy.
The map could be outdated. It could contain buildings which have been
So with a map you need to make an effort to get lost. You may
walk unnecessary ways, but getting lost is pretty hard.
I do not have a map or there is limited visibility (sandstorm, fog, inside wood)
If you have only limited vision, you are in trouble. If possible, it is
better to stay where you are if it is likely that the condition will
improve in time. If you see that something is up (The sight worsens,
a cloud is coming, it begins to rain or snow) try to locate yourself
if you are in unknown territority and prepare to rest.
If you are in a blizzard, a whiteout or dense fog moving without
orientation is asking for suicide. No joking.
If that is not possible, you have some options if limited
visibility is available.
Strategy 1: Follow a trail. It does not matter if it is a river,
a road, a railroad, a line of powerpoles, whatever. If it is made by
humans it will lead to humans. If you get to a crossing, choose the
path which is bigger or has the most visible activity. Follow the
footsteps. The "direction sense" of native people is simply the
ability to follow the own or other tracks back.
A river is not made by humans, but humans need water, so towns and
cities are located on rivers. Follow the river downstream (In case
you are in a desert, follow upstream ! Rivers are likely to ooze away).
Strategy 2: Restore sight. If you are on flat ground (not mountains !!) and you have a trail available (remember rule 3 ?), get higher. You not only increase your sighting distance, sometimes you
are able to get out of the visibility limitation. Fog is most dense at
the ground. You can climb an outstanding tree to see out of the wood (careful). Moving higher on mountains is generally a bad idea, because
you are moving away from possible help.
Strategy 3: Perk up your ears and eyes. Human activity is often noisy or visible. You have noise of machines, trains, road traffic. If you can locate noise or light, move to it (Faint lights is swamps are not such a great idea, see will-o'-the-wisp). Do not be surprised if they are absent when expected during fog or snow or in a wood, these circumstances can dampen noise strongly.
The following tips are for use inside cities.
Finding the city center (train station) in a big (European) city.
Move along the road. If you have a crossing, switch to the bigger road. If it is indicated that you are moving away from the center (less noisy, sign), revert direction. I do not know if it works for rectangle grid cities like in the USA, but it will work for most European cities.
I know where I am but I lost my partner or my group.
Move to the last safe location where you were together (In
case you were visiting an area with a high crime rate).
Make this the standard procedure for everyone so you can count
that everyone knows what to do.
The tricky one: Two or more people want to meet urgently but are
unable to communicate their meeting point or time.
Meet at the train station (if it is missing, the most important
point in the city) at either noon or midnight at the main entrance.
If the day is missing: Sunday. If the month is missing: February.
If the city is not known: The capital. The strategy is simple: Use
something which stands out as location or time.