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Avoid walking in circles in the wild

  1. Sep 24, 2009 #1
    Is there any general rule to avoid walking in circles in the wild?
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 24, 2009 #2
    ummm, i'm sure i knew a few, but the only one i can think of right now is keep the sun on your back or face or side, depending what direction you're going. You could also "aim" for something in the distance and walk towards that, which is kind of the same as the sun thing, or follow a canyon, river, valley.
     
  4. Sep 24, 2009 #3
    gps?
     
  5. Sep 24, 2009 #4

    berkeman

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    It's not actually a bad question. Not that I've ever had that issue in the wilderness (yeah, right). GPS can help, but is problematic when there are tall trees all around. A magnetic compass is the best reference in most situations. That part of my kit has saved me from survival camping overnight more than once. Learn how to carry and use a compass, would be my advice.
     
  6. Sep 24, 2009 #5

    Ranger Mike

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    A subject I know well. In the Infantry, they train to cross impossible terrain via dead reckoning. you use a map, a lensatic compass and a pace count. you are literally following the map. you have to compensate for declination angle which is the difference from grid North and magnetic North. Grid North is the true north of the map and due to the earth's core, magnetic North is a few degrees off depending upon your world location. all military maps are topographical so the hilltops, valleys. streams ridges. It does not look like your typical road map. You will drift to one side or the other and have to be cognizant of the side of the tree you typically walk around. I think right handed people move to the right side and go around. They train in the desert which is zero reference and they train at night, in rain and fog. I been soaked for hours and all we could do was look at the limious compass dial to maintain our azimuth. If you are without these, there are stars. If you are in the woods, moss grows on the north side of the tree for north hemisphere. If you are lost, head don hill and find a stream and follow it. animals have used natural line of drift, taking the easiest path over centuries and you will find trains almost anywhere in the world. On GPS - nice fad but if you have not mastered the basics I would not depend on a cute gadget that could break if my life depended on it..the military lensatic compass is pretty tuff and every one has on on patrol..a lot of cross checks and redundancy.
     
  7. Sep 24, 2009 #6

    Borek

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    Urban legend - that is, this is a story repeated by those that have never been to the forest :wink:

    More seriously - moss happens to grow on the north side of the trees, but it is not a rule, as a lot depends on the local terrain, shape, slope and humidity. So it is not a particularly efficient way of determining directions. Sun & stars are much more reliable if you don't have neither compass nor GPS with you.

    That said - many years ago we got lost in a forest. We went to pick mushrooms one afternoon and I have missed the moment when clouds covered the sky, long before the sunset. Then it was too late and my feeling of direction (that usually keeps me well oriented) failed. We were back to our tent well past midnight, luckily we meet people camping and knowing where they were. Once I get a reference point it was few minutes to the lake shore and follow the shore. Not that we were in some deep wilderness, three to four hours walk in ONE direction would solve the problem.
     
  8. Sep 24, 2009 #7

    Ranger Mike

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  9. Sep 24, 2009 #8

    Borek

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    No doubt about it. Let me reword what I wrote. "Moss grows on the north side of the trees" is a rule that is simplified to the point where it has no practical application.
     
  10. Sep 24, 2009 #9

    Integral

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    This is a recipe for walking in a circle. Remember the sun moves in an arc. In the morning you will be heading west, at noon south, in the evening east. The sun is useful but only as a reference with respect to the time of day.

    Here in the forests of the Pacific Northwest moss grows every where and is simply not a reliable indicator of anything, other then the season. Summer it is grey and dry, in the winter it is wet and green. In many areas here it nearly impossible to hold a course for any distance due to terrain constraints. Other then a GPS, a topo map and a compass are the surest aid, However I have rarely used them. For the most part I can always get back to my starting point with dead reckoning. The few times I have been a "mite bit confused" was when I encountered and unexpected road.
     
  11. Sep 24, 2009 #10
    I've been in forested areas where I attempted to find north by the moss on the trees to see if this factoid was true. As far as I remember the trees all seemed to have moss on different sides and I couldn't find any definite trend toward a favoured side of the trunk.
     
  12. Sep 24, 2009 #11
    If you run into a creek, follow it downstream.
    I don't think this happens in a natural setting: :biggrin:
    http://filipspagnoli.files.wordpress.com/2008/06/mc-escher-waterfall.jpg [Broken]
     
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  13. Sep 24, 2009 #12

    Borek

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    Seems to me like it is recipe for going south in halfcircles.
     
  14. Sep 24, 2009 #13

    lisab

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    Don't eat those mushrooms again :wink:.
     
  15. Sep 24, 2009 #14

    turbo

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    I've never had a problem in the Maine woods until I hunted in heavy fog one day and came out several miles from where I had expected. Silly me, I had changed to a lighter coat, and my compass was in the heavy coat. I knew the area pretty well, so I headed in without a compass anyway. Oops!

    Generally, even on overcast days, there is enough directional variation in the light that I don't have to use a compass, but the dense fog got me that time. The woods were bounded by enough roads (including logging roads) that even if I got really unlucky, I would probably have to walk no more than 5 miles or so in a straight line. The key is remembering enough about old logging roads, grown-over farmsteads, etc, to get your bearings when you see a former road or a stone wall or two. I now keep a compass in the pocket (or pinned to the front) of every hunting jacket I expect to use. Compasses are cheap insurance.

    I learned to use compasses and topo maps in the Boy Scouts. Now, I keep a DeLorme Atlas of the state in my truck all the time, and make mental note of a back-track bearing to the nearest (straight) road before heading into the woods. A couple of years ago, I came out of the woods about 1/2 mile from where I had expected after spending a lot of time getting detoured by impassable overgrown cuttings surrounding a swamp. The property had been selectively cut a couple of years before and I hadn't hunted there in years, so unfamiliarity was a factor. When someone cuts lots of fir and hemlock out of a mixed forest, and the deciduous trees start racing up to the light for a couple of years, things can look very different than you remembered.

    About the moss thing: If the forest is densely-crowned, the location of moss on trunks is not a very reliable indicator of direction. Learn to use a compass, and look at a decent topo map before heading into the woods to get a mental picture of the lay of the land. We don't have featureless plains or deserts in this state, so I don't know how to deal with those - a GPS might be handy in such places.
     
  16. Sep 24, 2009 #15
    Just curious, what's wrong with walking in a circle? You want to come back to the point where you left, rt?

    (from someone who hasn't been to any deep forest.)
     
  17. Sep 24, 2009 #16

    turbo

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    The problem occurs when you have lost your bearings and realize that you don't know the direction back out to your point of origin. From that time onward, walking in circles becomes an unproductive pastime.
     
  18. Sep 24, 2009 #17
    Don't ask me. I was following you.

    Always pay attention to your direction even if you're not alone. Then if the other person gets lost you can argue about which way is right. I don't have much experience with walking the wilderness, but the few times I've gotten lost it was because I was walking for some time without monitoring my direction. You can be lost on a trail and not even know it.Trails may not go where you need to go and following one without keeping orientation will get you lost. Where you are should never be far from your mind.
     
  19. Sep 24, 2009 #18

    Moonbear

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    Wear a watch when you travel. That way, if you're following the sun, you know what time it is to figure out generally what direction to head.

    I think I might opt to walk downhill. You might be walking in a giant spiral, but as long as you don't walk uphill again, you can't wind up back where you started. Besides, it's easier than walking uphill, and probably more likely to lead to water at the bottom somewhere.
     
  20. Sep 24, 2009 #19

    BobG

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    If you're really lost, this is a good rule. Finding a stream or river and walking downstream will eventually get you back to civilization. Of course, it may not be the quickest way back to civilization. In our state, we have the Platte, the Arkansas, the Rio Grande, and the Colorado. All exit the state in a different direction - of course, in most places, you'd really have to have wandered off course to wind up following the wrong major river. Hiking near the continental divide could offer some challenges, though.

    You need a good topo map, a compass, and a GPS. The GPS eliminates any doubt about where you are. You should have a compass as a backup (something that won't lose power because of a dead battery). You need the ability to figure out a route on your map and to translate that to the landmarks around you.

    Without a map and landmarks, it is very easy to get turned around, so walking in circles is a concern. Not such a problem here in the mountains. As soon as you get to the top of a ridge you can get your bearings back again. For flatlands, Moonbear's suggestion of a watch and the Sun work perfectly fine (in fact, you can generally tell approximately what time it is just by the elevation of the Sun and the tone of the sunlight if you're used to being outdoors). It's still not a good idea to rely on dead reckoning. Unless you were suddenly dropped out of a plane, you ought to be prepared before you head out into the woods.

    GPS offers something a compass doesn't. It records your path so you can find your way back out the way you came. (Just thinking about that guy that took his family for a drive through some logging roads, not realizing what a maze those roads created. He wound up taking the tires off his car and burning them for a signal fire, then tried to hike out on his own for help. Rescuers found his family alive, but he wound up dying, lost in the woods.)
     
    Last edited: Sep 24, 2009
  21. Sep 25, 2009 #20

    berkeman

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    The big problem (at least in my experience) comes when the nights are not as mild as the days. That is, if you are stranded overnight, you may die from hypothermia. So walking in circles or being lost near the end of the day in fall or winter can be a very bad thing. That's why I always have my basic survival kit with me in the woods, even in mild weather and even if it's just a moderate hike or hunting stalk. Being equipped to spend a night or two in the wilderness gives you much more flexibility and comfort when dealing with difficult situations out there...
     
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