Of course, it is easier to navigate with a compass, but it pays to know how to orient yourself without one. One of the best around is the Suunto MC-2G Mirror Sighting Global Compass. It has a declination adjustment system, which is useful in areas of large magnetic variation. But even a small button compass is useful — I keep one in my survival kit.
When examining a used compass, if it’s a liquid-filled type, make sure the bubble (if any) is small, indicating that it hasn’t leaked out.
But if you have no compass, you can still orient yourself in a general way. These rules apply in the Northern Hemisphere.
- Find the North Star.
- Identify the Big Dipper.
- Identify the two stars at the “pouring end” of the ladle.
- Mark the distance between them.
- Draw a line between the two stars at the pouring end of the ladle and extend it 5 times — you’ll find Polaris at the end of that line. Polaris is the tip of the Little Dipper’s handle.
- Track the Sun With a Stick. This method is most accurate around noon.
- Plant a stick vertically in the ground.
- Place a mark at the tip of its shadow.
- A half-hour later, place another mark at the tip of the shadow.
- A line drawn between the marks points approximately East and West.
- Use the Crescent Moon. This method is most accurate when the moon is at its highest point in the sky.
- Draw a line between the horns of the crescent.
- Extend that line down to the horizon — where it touches the ground is approximately South.
- Moss on Trees. This method is most accurate in drier microclimates. Moss will grow on rocks and tree trunks that do not receive much sun; this will tend to occur on the North side of those objects.
- Drier Hillsides Face South. This method works well in dry mountainous regions. North-facing slopes get the least sun and have more water-loving vegetation. South-facing slopes will have less vegetation, or more drought-tolerant vegetation like cacti.