Chapter 8

Survival Orientation

Relocating in the wild – especially when you’re lost – can be dangerous. In the same vein, knowing how to predict the weather successfully can make all the difference.

In a situation where time is of the essence, knowing what awaits you could greatly influence your decisions and prioritization.

In this chapter, we’ll learn how to find your bearingshow to create a compass, and how to know what weather to expect.

Survival Orientation

How to travel in the wild

If you are lost, an essential skill is to orient yourself and find your way to safety.


One method you can use to distinguish direction is to identify sun position, as long as it’s visible. It can also help us to keep track of time. Remember that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west.


You can also use nature to help orient yourself. Look for moss on a tree trunk. Moss usually grows on the furthest side away from the sun (which is usually north). Spider webs are another marvel of nature, as they generally lie on the south side of trees.


Although you should never travel in the dark, you can also use the north star to get your bearings. The first step in doing this is to locate the Ursa Major, also known as the big dipper. It looks something like a big saucepan.

From Ursa Major, you can locate Ursa Minor (which the north star forms part of). Imagine a straight line up from the top star of the Ursa Major saucepan to locate the last star on the Ursa Minor saucepan’s handle. Right there is the North Star. If you walk towards this star, you will be walking north.

Remember that overcast or poor weather conditions may confuse you. What’s more, the constellations are not always in the same place. Also, from June to October, Ursa Major lies very low in the sky. It may make it harder to identify.


A final alternative is to create a compass. There are two principal techniques. The first with a stick and marking the shadow movements. The second with a metal pin (e.g., from a watch, a hair clip, or a needle).

Shadow-stick Compass

The traditional shadow stick technique follows the same principle as sundials. You´ll need a large, flat, open space with no interfering shade, a three-foot-long stick, and another around three and a half feet long. For markers, you can use rocks or branches.

Sharpen the 3-foot stick and work it into the ground. Make sure it is very straight, as this will affect our results. Place one of your markers at the end of the shadow every ten or fifteen minutes. Your first marker will be your west point, and the last your east point.

Once you have five in place, you can take the longest stick and line it up with your markers. It will show you clearly the East-West line, and you can use this to set off in the right direction.

Whichever way you choose to move, help a rescue team find you by leaving a signal at your camp.

Metal-pin Compass

The other way to create a compass is with a metal pin. The best type of metal pin is a needle, and you are likely to be carrying one of these in your first aid kit anyway. You’ll also need a magnet and a small, round piece of cork.

Top Tip: if you don’t happen to have a magnet, remember you can find one in a pair of headphones!

Start by magnetizing your needle. You can do this by rubbing the needle in the same direction (instead of back and forth) along the magnet 30 to 40 times. 

Then you’ll need to insert your needle into the cork so that you have the same amount of needle sticking out of either end. The cork is being used here to float the needle. If you do find yourself in an extreme survival situation, place the needle on top of a leaf that will float.

 The magnetized needle will align itself with the earth’s magnetic field and point from North to South. Once you know north to south, you’ll have to figure out which is which. You could combine this technique with your knowledge of the sun’s movement, for example.

Remember that the body of water in which you suspend your needle will have a considerable influence on its accuracy. If you use water that has a current, you are unlikely to get a good reading. It is also true for windy climates, so try to shelter the needle if there’s a strong breeze blowing. For more detailed instructions, follow this link.

How to predict the weather

According to the SAS Survival Guide (Collins Gem), you can predict the weather using the smoke from your campfire. The weather is likely to remain fine if you see your campfire smoke rise steadily. If this smoke starts swirling or doesn’t rise evenly, the weather is likely to take a downturn.

A large halo or colored circle around the sun usually indicates fair weather. When this halo shrinks, it indicates low-pressure approaching, meaning rain or snow in the next 24-36 hours.

In a similar vein, heed advice from the age-old saying: “red sky at night, shepherds delight, red sky in the morning, shepherds warning.” The red sky at night signified that there is little moisture in the air. The red sky in the morning that a storm is approaching.

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Survival Orientation

The sun, the plants, and the stars – coupled with a reliable compass and fair weather – can lead us to safety.

In the next chapter, you’ll find out communication methods to help rescuers locate you. Noticeable visual and audio queues may be enough to be noticed and rescued.

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