Book Excerpt: Finding Your Way In The Wild

Dave Canterbury is a jedi master if you want to know every possible solution and tip if you’re ever lost in the wild, whether by choice or heaven forbid when it’s not your choice to be stuck somewhere far from civilization. Canterbury, who is the co-owner and supervising instructor at the prestigious survival training tool, the Pathfinder School,  is a New York Times best-selling author of multiple survival books, including his new title, Buschcraft Illustrated, which publisher Simon and Schuster calls “ultimate outdoor reference guide; it has 300-plus detailed illustrations and easy-to-follow instructions to help you learn wilderness skills and how to adapt to any situation.”

Here, Canterbury talks about how to use compasses and maps when you absolutely need to know how to get from Point A to Point B. 

Excerpted from Bushcraft Illustrated by Dave Canterbury. Copyright © 2019 Simon & Schuster, Inc. Used by permission of the publisher, Adams Media, a division of Simon and Schuster. All rights reserved.

You don’t always want to rely on natural methods of determining direction and location. For making long treks, you’ll probably prefer to use a map and magnetic compass. The main reason for any navigation method whether improvised or a true compass is to allow you to walk a straight line over distance. Even if you are using a primitive method you should still be able to walk a straight line and avoid lateral drift.

The reason compass use is so important is that without one, you’ll have a hard time walking in a straight line, particularly over long distances. Lateral drift, which affects everyone, causes you to move slightly left or right as you walk. This is a problem if you can’t see the object you’re aiming for (perhaps because of an obstruction or because it’s a long way off).

Bushcraft Tip
Not all compasses are created equal, and there are many types on the market today. Whatever compass you choose to use should act as a navigational device, signaling device for emergencies, mirror used for first aid as well as daily hygiene, and a tool capable of restarting by solar ignition.

A compass is used to establish a bearing, usually described as your position of travel in relationship to magnetic north. If you consider magnetic north to be zero, then
a bearing of 15 degrees is slightly to the northeast. Most compasses have a needle that is two different colors, usually red/ white or orange/white. The white side of the needle points south, and the colored area points north. The “front” or “top” of the compass is where the mirror is, so if you open the compass and look into the mirror, your compass is pointed to the front. Under the bezel ring of the compass should be an outlined arrow or set of lines that move as the bezel ring is moved. See FIGURE 7.19 below for an example of a survival compass.

Aim the sighting device on your compass lid at a distant object in the direction you are headed. Hold the compass centered on your body with your arms slightly away from your body. Tilt the mirror enough that you can see both the object in the distance through the “V” and the bezel ring on your compass. The needle on your compass will always point north, so at this point move your bezel ring so that the out- line, or “doghouse,” lines up in such a way that the north needle is inside. You will then have the bearing at the top of your compass. At this point, if you lower your compass and keep the north needle within the line in the bezel ring as you walk, you will be walking a straight line or exact bearing.

Bushcraft Tip
Sooner or later when traveling by compass, you will stray off course. When this happens, you should attempt a reverse azimuth to return to the last known point. A reverse azimuth just means traveling 180 degrees in the opposite direction from where you were going. The easiest method is to simply look at your compass as if it were a clock. If your current bearing is at 12 o’clock, rotate the bezel to the 6 o’clock number, and you have the reverse azimuth.

Remember that a topographic map is a two-dimensional image of a three-dimensional surface. So if you understand what you are looking at on the map, you can visualize what it looks like in real life. There are five colors on most topographical maps:
Brown is used for contour lines— lines that show elevation.
Green is used for vegetation—the darker the green, the more dense the vegetation.
Blue is used for water sources— creeks, streams, rivers, lakes, ponds.
Black is generally a man-made object—a trail, a railway, or a building.
Red shows major roadways such as highways.

And there are five terrain features you’ll want to watch out for:
Hilltops are the highest point of elevation in a rise, offering opportunities for overlook.
A ridgeline is a series of hilltops, enabling high ground travel.
A saddle is a low area between two hilltops, offering windbreak for camps without sacrificing elevation.
A draw is the reduction in elevation from a saddle with high ground on both sides. This is usually a good runoff point for water and in many cases leads to a valley.
5. A valley is a low elevation running between ridgelines. These areas hold runoff and are the best places to look for unmarked streams. If they hold water, the higher ground above them will be excellent for ambushing game that goes to the water to drink. Most valleys are also good trapping locations.

See FIGURE 7.21 below for an example of a topographical map.

Once you can read the basic features of the map, you need to understand the other information that it can provide. The map can give you distance from one point to another, as well as show you the differences between what your compass is reading (called magnetic north) and what the map has laid out (called grid north). The slight variation is called the declination and will be important if you plan to travel using your map to obtain bearings.

For rudimentary navigation, you do not need to worry much about the declination differences between grid north and magnetic north. However, if you are trying to be very precise over distance and intend to take your bearings from the map, you will need to understand this process. Your map contains a declination diagram, which will show you the amount of degree o set left or right between magnetic north and map north. The top of any map is oriented north. ink of straight up on the map as corresponding to the hands of a clock pointing to 12. Magnetic north is actually left or right of 12 o’clock, depending on where you are standing on the earth’s surface. Your compass always points to magnetic north, but the map is made to linear and lateral direction, so north on the map is not magnetic north. This difference is indicated in the declination diagram as a degree of o set. Once you find the declination diagram, you can set the declination difference in your compass if it has adjustable declination or use the calculation based on the degree of offset on every bearing you take from the map when planning your route. See  FIGURE 7.22 below for an example of a declination diagram on a map.

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Orienting the map allows you to match the two-dimensional image on the map to what you’re seeing in the landscape. To orient the map, place your open compass on one corner so the straight edge of your compass and the grid lines on the map are parallel. If you are using this map to figure a route and to factor travel bearings, to start this operation you will need to either have the declination difference set on the compass or offset your bezel ring that
amount from 360 degrees at the top of the compass. When you’ve done this, rotate the map until the north needle is again in the doghouse. The map will be oriented to the terrain in front of you. Make sure that when you begin this procedure your map compass top is toward the top of the map. See FIGURE 7.23 below for an example of how to orient the map.

You may determine that your destination is two kilometers (klicks) ahead but once you start walking you’ll need to keep track of how far you’ve gone. Pace beads are used to measure distance traveled. Simply create two strings of beads: one strand of nine beads and one strand of four beads. These are used to count five kilometers. Each bead on the side with nine beads represents 100 meters, and each bead on the side with four beads represents one kilometer. You will start with all beads at the top of the two strings and drop beads accordingly as you travel in 100-meter increments. The key to this is figuring how many paces it takes to walk 100 meters. Keep track in your camp journal or notes of your pace in various terrains carrying your typical gear. Over time you will be able to determine your average pace. See FIGURE 7.24 below for an example of pace beads.

Editor’s note: Survivalist expert Dave Canterbury is the co-owner and supervising instructor at the Pathfinder School, which USA Today named one of the Top 12 Survival Schools in the United States. He is the New York Times bestselling author of Bushcraft 101Advanced BushcraftandThe Bushcraft Guide to Trapping, Gathering, and Cooking in the Wild, and he runs a bushcraft YouTube account with nearly 550,000 subscribers.