Have you ever wondered how you might navigate at night without a compass? Or perhaps the compass you have is damaged or can’t be seen in low light conditions. I will outline 3 methods of night navigation that can help out. Just like in many aspects of survival, there is no “one size fits all” solution, so it’s best to understand all the methods available.
Recently, I was in a discussion around methods used to navigate at night without a compass (or GPS). After putting more thought into the topic I decided to outline the methods of night navigation that I’m familiar with.
Obviously, the easiest way to navigate at night would be a GPS or a nice tritium enhanced compass, but batteries die and compasses can break. Knowing a few primitive navigation methods could one
day night save your life.
3 Ways to Navigate at Night (Without a Compass)
Moon Navigation: Determine South Using the Moon
- Draw an imaginary line between the 2 points of a crescent moon
- Follow the imaginary line to the horizon (if the horizon can’t be seen you’ll have to take a guess, a straight stick may help)
- Where the imaginary line intersects the horizon should be a south bearing.
- The moon should be the easiest (largest and brightest) object to locate in the night sky
- If there’s a new moon, or if the moon is full or close to full determining the points could be impossible
- Requires a view of the moon. If there’s something between you and the moon, like trees, canyon walls, or clouds this method won’t work
- A view of the horizon (or near horizon) recommended, or you’ll have to guess
How to Find the North Star (Polaris)
The most important part of the north star is knowing how to find it, contrary to popular belief it is not the “brightest star in the night sky”. One easy way to locate the north star is to locate the big dipper (Ursa Major) which points to Polaris. Polaris also happens to be the tail star of the little dipper (Ursa Minor).
- Locate the big dipper
- Draw an imaginary arrow from the outermost “spoon stars” pointing “out” of the big dipper
- The first “bright star” to come to should be Polaris
- Confirm the star you’re looking at is Polaris by depicting the little dipper
- Fairly easy to locate
- It’s the only object in the night sky that doesn’t move (from our perspective)
- Requires the least amount of thought
- Requires a view of the northern sky. If there’s something obscuring your view, like trees, land formations, or clouds this method won’t work
- Searching for the north star in the sky can take time
L.U.R.D. Navigation Method: Determine Direction Using a Single Star
- Create a sighting instrument (a pair of sticks you can align will work fine.)
- Locate a star you can see
- Place 1 stick in the direction of that star
- Place the other stick aligning that stick with the other to the star
- Once all 3 objects are in alignment wait 10-20 minutes (time for noticeable movement depends on sight radius and star’s relative proximity to Polaris)
- Inspect direction of movement from the sight
- Translate the direction your sticks are pointing by the following:
Left = North | Up = East | Right = South | Down = West
- Works with every star EXCEPT Polaris
- Should work as long as you can see some stars
- Requires a small window of the night sky (so if you’re deep in the woods you can still perform)
- Requires some crafting
- Requires a good amount of thought
All of the methods outlined above should be considered gross navigation. Meaning, they are not entirely accurate merely good estimations. I strongly recommend a good quality compass for anyone traveling at day or night.
Suunto MC-2 Mirrored Compass
This is my compass of choice, I like it so much I have 2. If you’re pressed for cash then check out the Suunto MCB Mirror Compass. It lacks in some features, but is has the important stuff (rotating bezel, sighting mirror, ruler).
Suunto Clipper Compass
These make great backup compasses or a compass for quickly orienting a map.
Basic & Primitive Navigation (Pathfinder Outdoor Survival Guide Series) by Dave Canterbury
I have most of these folding survival guides, they are waterproof, durable and handy.
Princeton Tec Remix LED Headlamp
Any headlamp with a strong red LED mode would be a good choice. Personally, I choose to cover all of my headlamps with a red filter. White light is good while moving around, but for most other tasks I greatly prefer red light (which saves your night vision).