no compass.

10:42 a.m. on May 6, 2010 (EDT)
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i couldn't find this in prior posts, but then again i could be bad at looking. Hypothetically, you lost your compass or something happened to it. What would be the best way to get your bearing; moss on the north side of trees, the north star, or any other method?

12:30 p.m. on May 6, 2010 (EDT)
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If you have sun, jam a straight stick into the ground vertically, and mark the end point of that stick's shadow with a rock or something. Wait in the shade for a few minutes. When you come back, mark the new end point of the shadow with another rock; a line between those two points is an approximate East-West line. Works at night under a bright moon as well.

Otherwise, pull out the sewing needle you have in your first aid kit (or embedded in your nylon webbing belt), run it through your greasy hair a few times in the same direction, and carefully float it on the surface of a puddle or something. If you've done it correctly, the needle should align itself North-South.

Or, learn your constelations (or asterisms), and move at night; locomotion is often more efficient at night, unless you're in Africa, or anywhere big cats hunt at night.

8:46 p.m. on May 6, 2010 (EDT)
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I use the same stick and shadow method as Pillowthread described above, haven't tried the needle trick.

At night, to determine North I find Polaris by using the Big Dipper. Since Polaris sits low in the sky at times it's view may be obstructed, but you can still determine North with just the Big Dipper to a great degree. Here is a site I found with a video tutorial on Polaris.

http://ecuip.lib.uchicago.edu/diglib/science/cultural_astronomy/interactives/polaris/polaris.swf

If you're wearing a watch with hour and minute hands you can hold the watch horizontally and use it as a compass of sorts. If you're in the Northern Hemisphere point the hour hand in the direction of the sun, for the Southern Hemisphere point the 12 in the direction of the sun. The distance half way between the hour hand, and the 12, is North. Many people use a watch with a compass on it, they are handy, and can serve as a back up compass as long as the watch is in working order.

Remember also that the Sun rises in the East and sets in the West, so if you face the sunrise North will be 90 degrees (or so) to your left. If you face the sunset North will be 90 degrees to your right.

I carry a small bubble compass as a back up, it has a pin to attach it to your shirt but I like to keep mine protected in a zippered pocket in my pack.

8:49 p.m. on May 6, 2010 (EDT)
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Sun and moon are excellent and certainly in my top three for guiding myself out.

Another one that I rely on, even with a compass, is the direction of mountain ranges. When I go out, I put the general lay of the mountains into my head by looking over a topo map and, then, always have a good idea of where my cardinal directions are. One can do the same with riverways, etc.

I wholeheartedly recommend the Wilderness Navigation Manual by Fred Touche. He covers this topic very well (as well as most other navigation topics). One of my topic backcountry books on my shelf...

9:15 p.m. on May 6, 2010 (EDT)
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Sounds like some people need to take the wilderness navigation course I give for the Sierra Club's Clair Tappaan Lodge each year. Next time is June 11-13. Look at the Sierra Club's website under "Lodges". We start with how to navigate with nothing (no map, no compass, no electronic widgets) and work our way up to GPS receivers.

But to answer the OP's question -

Moss is useless, since it grows on the shady side of the trees. Which means in moderately thick woods, it can be on any side, and sometimes all sides.

Stars are a good way, if you learn 4 or 5 prominent constellations scattered around the sky. That way, you can keep oriented anywhere on Earth at any time of year, as long as you can see the stars.

If the moon is more than a couple days from Full or New, the tips of the crescent or the sharp bends of the gibbous moon point roughly toward the north and south parts of the horizon (there is a slight complication, but it is close enough for approximate orientation).

The sun rises roughly in the east and sets roughly in the west in the mid to low latitudes, but in polar regions either goes around the horizon in the summer for the hemisphere you are in or is below the horizon in the winter for the hemisphere.

The watch trick was based on having a clock that is reasonably accurate for the longitude you are located at, plus having a watch with hands. But you can do the same thing with a digital watch and a sketched clock face - just draw a circle in the dirt (in the sunlight, of course), with a stick in the middle. The shadow is your hour hand. You know what a watch face looks like (well, if you were born before the era of digital watches, anyway), so you can mark the approximate location of the 12 mark, bisect the angle and you have your north-south line.

The shadow line tracing the E-W line is ok in mid to low latitudes, but doesn't work very well in polar regions - you just get part of an arc of a circle. But that's ok, since if you wait a while to find the longest and shortest shadow points, that's the N-S line.

Best thing, though, is pay attention to landmarks as you hike - don't just stare at your toes or the pack of your buddy hiking in front of you. Looking around not only keeps you oriented, but also brings great pleasure in the wonder and fantastic sights of nature. It also lets you spot that grizzly or mountain lion before s/he pounces on you and eats you.

7:35 a.m. on May 7, 2010 (EDT)
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I would ask my wife - she is always right - but then again, men don't ask for directions.
Ed

10:37 a.m. on May 7, 2010 (EDT)
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I would ask my wife - she is always right - but then again, men don't ask for directions.
Ed

But what if it is the left fork in the trail?

Remember, when you come to a fork in the trail, take it.

1:35 p.m. on May 7, 2010 (EDT)
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Both of the techniques I had to suggest were already posted (shadow stick & north star) but I have a good survival website that details them step by step that you might want to check out. http://www.survivaltopics.com/

http://www.survivaltopics.com/survival/using-shadows-to-determine-direction/

http://www.survivaltopics.com/survival/how-to-find-the-north-star/

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