What is Natural Navigation and How to Use it

Natural navigation means orienting yourself and crossing a landscape without needing to rely on technology like maps, gps or compass. Developing natural navigational awareness can really help you get your bearings if you ever get lost - and it will make outdoor exploration more meaningful and exciting!

There are a few steps to learning and honing your natural navigation skills - let’s go through them!

BEFORE YOU LEAVE HOME

If you are heading out on a quick hike or a multi-day camping trip, you should always tell someone where you are going, how long you will be gone, and when you anticipate to be back. 

It also helps if you use the trail maps (or Google maps, if available) to familiarize yourself with the landscape. Note cliffs, sudden changes in elevation, running water (waterfalls or fast rivers especially) and other landmarks that will help you get your bearings. You can use natural materials to make trail markers along the way to help navigate home.

Trail marker for navigation and direction

You can practice memorizing landscapes by starting with your backyard and around your home - note any landmarks, what’s in each of the four directions and how the landscape changes. Over time, expand your mind by memorizing bigger and bigger landscapes. 

BUILD YOUR NAVIGATION SKILLS

A good sense of direction can be learned - and in the wilderness, it can be very important. It’s surprisingly hard to walk in a straight line in a forest, or recall trail landmarks when you walk back. Here is a simple exercise to build your skills (by the way, you’ll find acrylic markers in Kit #3 “Lead the Way Kit” - use the bright colours to help mark your trail so you can get back safely.

Wild Life Outdoor Adventures Paint Markers

1. Pick a spot to use as your starting point. Put a stick in the ground, or use a natural landmark like a big rock. If you’re able… mark out the four directions with sticks. Know that moss grows on the North-facing side of rocks and trees, while knowing the time of day and looking at the position of the sun can also help deduce the directions.

Moss Grows on North Side

 2. Take a few moments tostudy your surroundings. Look at the trees, look at the plants, feel for where the wind is coming from. Listen into the distance. Can you hear vehicles or running water nearby? Which direction are those sounds coming from? Can you see any landmarks or attention-grabbing trees?

3. Choose a direction and start by walking ten paces away from your anchor point. Focus on being present with what’s happening in your 5 senses. Don’t just stare at the ground. Look up and around you. Every few paces stop and look behind at where you came from.

4. When you get 10 paces away, turn around and walk back to where you came from. Note any new observations you make on the return trip from this new perspective.

5. Pick a different direction and do the same thing over again. Walk 10 paces in this new direction and pay conscious attention to your surroundings.

Practice extending the number of paces you walk away from your anchor point. Explore all four directions and work up to being able to walk 100 paces or farther from your anchor point. Always remembering to stop every few steps to look around. Remember to look behind you and try to always follow the same path back as you took moving away.

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