How to Navigate in the Wilderness

Every year in Canada, well over 12,000 people get themselves lost in the wilds. The majority had no map or compass or GPS with them, or the skills to use them! A rising cause of lost person incidents is as a result of trust in automobile GPS systems, combined with a bad case of nature deficit disease.‎


Automobile Navigation Systems:‎ (and Mapquest, Googlemaps…..)
Thousands of North Americans become lost and stranded every year, as a result of trusting their car GPS systems, and also Mapquest and Google Maps. It’s easy to plug in the wrong coordinates, and some internet mapping GPS programs have inherent errors. Also, when you give a car GPS and address, there’s likely several routes to get there, so your GPS might choose the fastest route, as the crow flies. And that might be down a logging road or unmaintained road.
Tip: check physical maps whenever your traveling in rural or wilderness Ontario.
How to Use the Watch Method and Sundial:
You require the sun for this method.
If you point the hour hand of an analog watch at the sun, halfway from the hour hand thence to twelve noon on the watch dial = South.‎ With a digital watch, you can estimate the Watch dial with your hands (angles). Or you can photocopy an analog watch dial, and keep in your survival kit.
For the shadow stick sundial, ‎place a straight stick on a flat smooth ground, and then mark the end of the shadow. With a smaller stick. Wait fifteen + minutes, and mark the new shadow. Draw a west to east line from the first to the second shadow, since the sun goes from East to west.


White Pine Trees:
White Pine trees are sculpted and shaped to point east, by the predominant strongest northwest high pressure winds.‎ We call them the compass tree!


Magnetic Compass Bearings:
There are five steps to a compass bearing. The basic way to take a bearing is to dial your heading, eg.   0 to 360 degrees, for example dial East or 90 degrees, park the red magnetic needle into the orienteering arrow inside the ‎needle housing or bezel, and follow the directions of travel arrow or sight notch to your destination.
The more advanced method is as follows:
1) Choose an A to B route on a topo map that makes sense.
2) Line the edge of the compass baseplate with the A to B line, making sure that the direction of travel arrow is pointing from A (starting point) to B (ending point).
3) Rotate the housing so that the north orienteering arrow is pointing to ‎the top of the map.
4) Correct your map bearing for the declination, eg for the Frontenac Region, add 13 degrees, since it’s a westerly declination (map points to true north, compass points to the magnetic north field).
5) Park the red needle into the north orienteering arrow, and follow your or sight your bearing through the direction of travel arrow or sight notch.
You can buy a Ultimate Survival Technologies Compass on for $10, and it’s similar to $60 compasses found at many retailers!
Tip: Take one of our Navigational courses to become familiar with this process.
Topographical Maps:
Scales come in many sizes. Pilots utilize 1:500,000 scale maps, and appreciate features such as airports, runways, oceans, and mountains.
Outdoor recreationists use 1:50,000 scale topos, eg Softmap and Fugawi brand softwares, and for more detail, some (eg hunters and fishers) use provincial base maps, 1:10,000 scale.
Types of maps vary from road maps, crown land maps that show you where Crown Lands are (available from Backroads Map Company)‎, topographical maps, and nautical charts. Topos show you very thing above water, and nautical charts show everything below water.
Software is the cheapest way to go for all types of mapping, and there is specialized off road maps, OFSC snowmobile maps‎, and very nice Backroads 3-d GPS maps  all able for newer Garmin hand held GPS units.
Map features ‎are found in the legend, and important ones include a grassy symbol for swamps, brown contour lines, green is forested, white is open country, Blu is water, intermittent lines are trails or logging roads, black dots are homes, etc. Other useful info includes thousand meter grid squares, magnetic declination, and map datum.
Hand-held GPS Units:
For land use, I would highly recommend the Garmin-64s or 62 hand held models, and if you prefer touchscreen with better graphics, the Garmin Montana or Oregon models.
Marking a Waypoint is simple. Turn the unit on, wait to be in good satellite coverage, eg less than ten meters accuracy, and hit the market or save button. Always give the waypoints a name, otherwise you will not remember a number.
Going to or to find a way point is easy, simply hit the find or go-to button, scroll your saved points, and choose one.
Breadcrumb Trails‎ can be activated in menu and setup, and I prefer them over go-to lines in many cases. The drawback is that you waste battery juice when you keep the unit on, to record your breadcrumbs!
Tip: always carry a compass and physical maps, along with your GPS unit. They don’t need batteries, and are dependable.
Dangers of Using your Cell Phone as a GPS and Compass in the Wilds
Most smartphones now have digitizer screens to give you an enhanced surfing experience. This makes them very fragile, so if you use the GPS or Digital Compass feature in the wilds, be careful not to drop the unit. Also, they aren’t waterproof or temperature resistant like a purpose built GPS unit (except for a special CAT smartphone that’s rugged for the outdoors). Furthermore, usually you have to be in cell tower communications.
Happy Navigation, and remember, be prepared, you are biodegradable.