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I have a challenge for you. Gather your spouse and kids together outside and ask them individually to point to the North. Ask them which direction the sun rises and in which it sets. Wait for a clear and star-filled night, now ask them all to find the North Star.

Unless your kids are Boy/Girl Scouts and your spouse is a veteran, chances are that very few of them will have answered every single question correctly. Sadly, most people in our modern world are completely dependent upon their mobile phone to tell them how to get where they are going.

I know this may come as a shock to some, but GPS is not perfect. I have had GPS directions navigate me in the wrong direction and to the wrong location. Also, keep in mind that mobile phones and GPS units are battery operated and not all are water friendly. Again, if your iPhone goes for an accidental swim, your GPS App is not going to work. (That exact thing happened to a good friend of ours.)

If you missed the beginning of this series,
>>Click Here for Part 1: Fire<<

Navigation – Know Where You Are Going

Few experiences in life are as frustrating and potentially frightening as being lost. Even though you may be in top physical condition, not knowing where you are or how to navigate to familiar territory is tremendously stressful psychologically.

Every well-equipped camper or hiker should have in their possession a paper map of the area where they plan to travel. Yes, even if you have an iPhone or GPS you should still have a physical paper map. Along with that map, you should have a magnetic compass (no batteries).  A military lensatic compass is the best choice and most expensive. However, a “button” or “wristband” compass is better than nothing. (Serious people will also have a protractor, but that is more advanced than we have space for here.)

In the event that you find yourself in unfamiliar territory and have come to the realization that you are “lost”, you can save yourself if you can walk out on a straight line.  Even in the backcountry and wilderness areas, if you maintain a steady course, east, west, north or south, chances are good that you will run across a road of some kind.  You may come across a powerline cut out or a river, in either case, you should be able to follow them to civilization or someplace where there is traffic.

One of the biggest problems for lost hikers and campers is that they do not maintain a steady course during navigation. They end up circling around or winding back and forth with the terrain.  Also, a topographical map is extremely helpful for land navigation. It will show you where the ground is going to be flat and smooth and where it will be steep and uneven. Five miles over relatively flat land and five miles through hills and valleys are nowhere near the same.

A paper map will also indicate bodies of water and marsh areas. While a lake or river can be a life-saver, trying to trudge a mile across a marsh or swamp can be a killer. Not only does it wear you out, but poisonous water snakes abound and they are aggressive.

Like the marsh or swamp, you may encounter other obstacles that are best to go around. Using 90 degree turns, you can successfully maneuver around such obstacles and get back on track.

Once again, basic land navigation or “orienteering” is not rocket surgery. Anyone with the desire can learn to navigate with a map and a compass.

“Just follow the person in front of you” is not sound advice for land navigation.

“Just follow the person in front of you” is not sound advice for land navigation.

How many survival or “lost hiker” situations begin because someone thinks they knew where they are going but do not? The quintessential “I know a shortcut” is another primary culprit in the lost camper or hiker event.

Also, every person in the group should be familiar with the area and understand the destination. Many lost hikers and campers were a part of a larger group who became separated from the main body. Now they are on their own and lost. Someone else was the leader and their plan was simply to follow him/her.

“Just follow the person in front of you” is not sound advice for land navigation. What do you do when the person in front of you is no longer there? Ask Jessica Lynch how that worked out.

If you are the leader of a hiking or camping group, take the time to spread a map out on the ground. Make sure everyone in the group understands where you are starting from and where you are heading. Create a contingency plan so everyone knows what to do in the event that they get separated from the main party.

Also, let someone else know where you are going and when you should be back. Tell family or a friend, so if you do not return on time they can get help moving in the right direction.

Recommended Items for Wilderness Survival

  1. Wristband Compass
  2. Wilderness Survival PLS Kit

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Paul G. Markel has worn many hats during his lifetime. He has been a U.S. Marine, Police Officer, Professional Bodyguard, and Small Arms and Tactics Instructor. Mr. Markel has been writing professionally for law enforcement and firearms periodicals for nearly twenty years with hundreds and hundreds of articles in print. Paul is a regular guest on nationally syndicated radio talk shows and subject matter expert in firearms training and use of force. Mr. Markel has been teaching safe and effective firearms handling to students young and old for decades and has worked actively with the 4-H Shooting Sports program. Paul holds numerous instructor certifications in multiple disciplines and a Bachelor’s degree in conflict resolution; nonetheless, he is and will remain a dedicated Student of the Gun.

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