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Survival Guide for Hikers

CompassNot everyone’s Indiana Jones and carries maps, compasses or GPS navigational equipment all the time. So what do you do if you don’t pack the essentials? Read on.

Remember the basics

Remember that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west so the first thing you’ll need to  do is to track the sun. Be careful though: during winter it lies low on the southern horizon and is nearly directly overhead during midsummer.

If you feel the time to be close to noon, position your analog watch so that the hour hand points directly towards the sun. If you don’t have an analog watch, draw it on the ground based on the time of your digital watch. The line bisecting the angle between the hour hand and 12 is positioned north to south and to find north, all you need to do is remember the sun tracks through the southern horizon.

Find Polaris

You can only find Polaris or the North Star at night and it always points north so you can’t really go wrong. It can be found by first locating the easily recognized Big Dipper. Trace a line upward that measures five times the distance of the two stars that make up the lip of the Big Dipper’s cup until you find a faint star. That faint star is Polaris. Mark its direction in the dirt and follow the direction in the morning.

Got lost? Backtrack

The easiest thing you can do when lost is go back to your last known spot if possible although having the last spot being near a summit, river crossing, lake or trail sign can be highly useful. If backtracking is not possible and/or you can’t navigate to a marked trail, parking lot, structure or road without a compass, you might want to stay where you are and wait for rescue. Unless it’s necessary to move, staying in one spot will make it easier for anyone looking to find you. Make a fire (if possible) and do anything else possible to make yourself more visible to rescuers.

Mark Your Path

As soon as you realize you’re lost, start marking you path. This will keep you from walking in circles and help anyone looking for you. Use rocks or stick to mark clear marks in the path. Usually an arrow pointing in your directions of travel is the best symbol.  If you have a knife, cut marks in trees at intervals.

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