No GPS? How to Tell Where You Are

Learn the lost skill of finding directions without modern technology

Ronald Agrella (@ronagrella) Holiday (October 29, 2015)

You’re on the highway or hiking along some lonely stretch of road when your GPS or smartphone stops working. The voice that tells you to turn left or right goes silent, and the glow of the screen map outlining your path goes dark.

What do you do?

Smartphones, handheld geolocation units and computerized cars have revolutionized the way people travel around town and across the country. As technology continues to advance, many people may find they can’t get find their way without it.

Even the trusty road map seems to be going the way of the dinosaur. In a recent Daily Mail article , a study found 83 percent of people own a map but only a third of motorists keep one handy in their cars. And nearly four out of five young drivers don’t even know how to read one.

Here’s how to figure out where you are and where you’re going without the use of high-tech gadgets.

Related: “Survivorman” Les Stroud: How to Survive Being Lost in the Wild

1. The position of the sun

Sunrise Sunrise Photo: Grisha Bruev/Shutterstock

Remember this from your elementary school science class? The sun rises in the east and sets in the west. So in the morning, if you point to the sun with your right hand, you will be facing north. West will be at your left, and south will be behind you. Do the opposite late afternoon.

2. Shadow method

Shadow method Shadow method Photo: Andrey Grinyov/Shutterstock

Find a stick (about a yard long) and stand it up in the dirt. Now mark the tip of the shadow’s end. Wait 5 to 15 minutes for the shadow to move with the sun and then mark the new tip of the shadow location. The first marking will be roughly west and the new mark will be to the east of the first. If you put your left foot on the first mark and your right foot on the second mark, you’re facing north with south at your back.

3. The North Star

The Big Dipper The Big Dipper Photo: ella1977/Shutterstock

Seafarers and explorers have relied on stars to navigate for centuries. The North Star, or Polaris, is as true north as you can get without a compass. To find the North Star, look for the Big Dipper (aka Ursa Major), and follow the end of the ladle (not the handle) about five times its length. (In the spring and summer, you'll see the Big Dipper high in the sky. In fall and winter, it’s closer to the horizon.) Polaris is one of the brightest stars and does not move like other stars do as the earth rotates.

Related: How to Survive in the Desert

4. Crescent and rising moons

Crescent moon Crescent moon Photo: Suppakij1017/Shutterstock

Extend an imaginary line from the top of a crescent moon to the bottom, then extend it straight into the horizon. That direction is south.

Survival expert Captain Mykel Hawke, a U.S. Army Special Forces Green Beret veteran and co-star of The Travel Channel series “ Lost Survivors,” says observing the setting sun and rising moon helps determine west. “When the sun is still in the evening sky and the moon is already up, it's easy to remember: Two is best to show the west because when the sun goes down, the lit side of the moon is the west," he says. "If the sun goes down, and it’s dark for a while before the moon comes up, the lit side is now showing the east: One at least to show the east.”

5. Moss on trees

Tree moss Tree moss Photo: Cr3ativ3 Pixel/Shutterstock

Find a tree with moss on it. If you’re in the Northern Hemisphere, that moss generally will be facing north, but not always. Here's why.

“There is some merit to the moss myth,” Hawke says. “In areas where there’s a lot of moisture in the air and a decent bit of sunshine regularly, moss will grow on the opposite side of the tree from the sun.” Since the sun shines from the south in the northern hemisphere, a tree’s north side is generally more shaded and damp — and mossy.

However, moss grows completely around some trees, so this method can't always be used.

6. Use your watch

Watch Watch Photo: Sam DCruz/Shutterstock

For this tip from Lifehacker you’ll need a watch or a clock with hands (digital ones won’t work). Take your watch and point the hour hand toward the sun. Now imagine a line running from the center of the watch between the hour hand pointing at the sun and the 12 p.m. mark. That direction will indicate approximate south. If you’re on daylight savings time, move your clock ahead one hour first.

Related: What to Do if You Get Lost in the Mountains

comments powered by Disqus
Scroll Down For More Stories!