How to Survive Lost Without a Compass

Woman hiking and reading map in forestYou have decided it is a good day for a short hike on a well-known trail. A trail well known to you anyways because you have hiked it numerous times and you know every twist and turn. You know how long it takes from start to finish and you have your survival gear down to a science. You know how many bottles of water you will need as well as number of protein bars. Because you are, so familiar with the terrain a map and compass is just added weight and you see no need to pack then for the hike.

After an hour along the trail, you notice storm clouds gathering and realize it is an hour walk back to the trailhead and your vehicle. Getting soaked out here is not ideal because it is getting cooler so you begin to search for shelter, you veer off the trail, and soon you spot a downed tree that may offer some protection if you get under it.

The rain pelted down for the better part of an hour and the mist rising from the ground made seeing the ground difficult. You set out for the trail and after 10 minutes of hiking you realize you must have went in the wrong direction because surely you did not walk ten minutes to the downed tree. Twenty minutes in the other direction and still no trail and for some reason you have the urge to run in another direction to find the trail, you do not however because panicking is dangerous and it will only move you farther from the trail.

You Are Lost What to Do Next

Like most people, you probably get in your vehicle and drive to your destination. You know the way because of landmarks and street signs. Directions are not given like in days past where someone would tell you to walk north for 800 paces and turn south for 300 more. Frankly you have no idea if the trailhead where your vehicle is, is north or south of the trail and certainly no idea where it is from your current location.

How to Find Civilization

Man checking compass for right directionSome people naturally assume a compass is no good unless you know which direction to travel in and that you need a map to find your way. Granted a compass is ideal for finding locations if you know the grid coordinates and know the destination as marked on a map. However, a compass also allows you walk in a straight line.

The bezel of a good compass will have degrees marked on it that correspond to the direction of travel and is lined up with the needle that points in that direction. When walking you glance at the needle to ensure you are always moving 180 degrees south, for example, and this makes it easy to adjust course and of course ensures that you are walking in a straight line.

It is nearly impossible to walk in a straight line without a compass or some visual landmark that you can focus on with your eyes.

Lost Without a Compass

Why is walking in a straight line important. If you cannot walk in a straight line, simply put, you will never get anywhere and ultimately will walk in circles and end up back where you started. You can literally walk for days, be less than five miles from civilization, and never find it because you walked in circles. Hikers, hunters and others lost have been found in some cases just a few miles from camp, their vehicle or a town. They had succumbed to the elements or dehydration because they could not stay pointed in one direction long enough to reach their camp or the town.

Assumedly if you walk in any direction in a straight line for 10 to 15 miles or more in some cases, you will come upon a road, highway or some other evidence of civilization. It is simply a matter of maintaining course, and it can be done with a compass or map.

Find a landmark that you can walk directly to and once there find another and do the same and repeat this process to walk in straight line. Use the sun during the day to maintain course by walking with the sun over one shoulder and once the sun begins to go down either walk into it or have it centered on your back as you walk, which will require that you glance back often to stay on course.

Waterways can lead to towns and homes. Simply follow any river or stream downriver. Many cities and towns grew up around water because water is essential to any community’s survival and many communities sprang up around water.

Railroad tracks either lead to or are coming from a settlement and once you come upon a set of tracks it really does not matter which direction you travel in, one way could have a town just around the corner or several miles around the next corner.

Overhead power lines and oil pipelines will lead to civilization, repair huts, homes and transfer stations where help may be found.

If you know or suspect you are in a coastal area walk into the wind to find the coastline or follow birds. Birds will fly inland and then return to the coast. Prevailing winds blow inland so if the breeze is at your front then you are walking toward the coast where help may be found.

Posted on by Suburban Prepper in Suburban Survival, Survival Gear Comments Off


Often taken for granted, maps will be an essential element for gathering intel, navigation and planning in a SHTF world.  Have you ever thought about the effort and resources it took to make a map?  Cartography has got to be a difficult thing to do after a SHTF event.  Who has time to draw maps when you are fighting off zombie hordes or biker gangs just to get to a clean water supply? 

GPS is going down so don’t count on your Garmin for navigation.  I doubt the US will have the resources to keep the civilian GPS satellites flying when they have limited resources just to keep the country running.  Forget google maps too.  The Internet has an infrastructure (somewhere) and without Cisco and the cable companies maintaining the cables and switches, there will be no Internet (I don’t know how I will make it!)  So it is back to the good ole paper maps!

Here is the good news … maps are usually cheap (or totally free if you belong to AAA) and they take up very little space in your car, G.O.O.D. bag or other SHTF stash.  When you think about what it would cost to prepare a detailed map of just your own town or city after SHTF it makes NO sense not to stock up now.  Maps have a long shelf life and even maps that are 20 -30 years old will give you 90% of what you need.

Make sure you have a detailed map of your city in ALL your SHTF bags and vehicles.  Keep a couple extra in your home.  When you start using them a lot they will get worn.  A map will be critical for planning any sort of operation outside your home such as resource gathering.  Ever seen a military CP (command post)?  They are full of maps!  Maps are essential for planning any sort of coordinated exercise.  Get maps for all the areas that you may travel in.  Get one for where you work, where your parent’s or brother lives (mistress?) whatever.  Keep those in your vehicles.  If you have a retreat, be sure to have maps for your city and your retreat area and everywhere in between.  You never know when you are going to have to hoof it! 

If you are on foot a map and map reading skills will be very handy.  Avoiding cities and tracing the outskirts of a populated area are a proficient way of making your way while trying to remain undetected.  Be sure you buy a couple compasses.  Not the electric kind that have an ipod attached from the Sharper Image.  Get an old fashioned mechanical compass.  Have some fun with it to practice.  See if you can navigate home with the kids one day after going on a walk or coming home from baseball practice. 

Remember information is power in today’s world and it will be after the S hits the fan.  Take out a cheap and easy insurance policy and get yourself all the relevant maps you need.  They may be worth their weight in gold someday!


Posted on by Suburban Prepper in SHTF, Suburban Survival 8 Comments