7 Essentials for Navigating Through the Wilderness Without a GPS

7 Essentials for Navigating Through the Wilderness Without a GPSExploring the great outdoors if one of the favorite past time of many Americans. Gone are the days when these modern pioneers would navigate through the wilderness with just a map. Nowadays, they rely on their mobile phones and various GPS devices to find the safe path. Rather than “abusing” technology, it’s best to look at how we can survive without it.

Once you had the presence of mind to check the weather and pack the right gear, it’s time to get on the road. As a precautionary measure, you should always text a buddy and let him now about your itinerary and how long you will be gone. This will save people a lot of trouble and they won’t rush looking for you, thinking you’re in danger or you got lost.

Your primary choice for navigating through the wilderness is probably a GPS receiver. Although I can understand the use of such a device, I can’t help but think about its drawbacks. Relying only on your GPS makes you susceptible to insufficient battery life and subpar accuracy. Not to mention that poor reception is often the main factor why people get lost even when using a GPS.  As with everything in life, I recommend having a backup plan.

It’s important to acknowledge that your GPS is not fail-proof and navigating through the wilderness without knowing what you’re doing can put you in danger. You should have the ability to confidently navigate your course within your self-sufficient means. The following must be considered before you adventure into the wild.

7 Essentials for navigating through the wilderness

  1. Purpose

You shouldn’t go wondering around without having a certain purpose. What is your scope for navigating through the wilderness? Are you trying to get to a specific spot? Do you plan to discover and explore new areas? What is your timetable for doing so?

During my travels, I’ve encounter quite a few nature photographers who got lost because they were trying to find a spot for the perfect shot. You should avoid trying to reach unmarked spots if you don’t have a few years of hiking experience behind you. Your main purpose should be to travel from point A to B and avoid hazardous area while doing a few planned stops. You should establish your purpose for navigating through the wilderness as this will save you precious time.

  1. Planning and preparation, the keys to success

This is mandatory for navigating through the wilderness and refers to the collection of whatever resources and information you may need and want. You should gather said resources and information ahead of time as it will assist with your trek. Try to gather as much information about the region before you set foot there.

Inform yourself about the weather, fauna and flora (especially the harmful ones) and the terrain you need to go through.

As a few examples of things to consider, ask yourself these questions:

  • Do you need to carry water or is there a potable water source you can easily access?
  • Did you plan for or identified possible sources of shelter?
  • Do you have any means to defend yourself against dangerous animals?
  • Can you rely on your ability to procure wood and start a fire for various survival purposes?

This may seem like a hassle at first, but I assure you it can save your life when navigating through the wilderness. It will come in handy especially in new areas, where the unknown factor is ever-present.

Related reading: Wilderness safety rules to acknowledge

  1. A map, the navigating tool of the pioneers

A map will aid you in pinpointing your location when navigating through the wilderness. It will also help you determine where you want to go. There is no need of electronic assistance as long as you know how to precisely read a map. Even more, the map is lightweight and you can keep it on yourself at all times, regardless the chores you have to accomplish.

Every map is a representation of a larger portion of the earth. To figure out the landscape you should make sure to read the legend. Once you understand the symbols, you should have no problem figuring out what to expect and how it will impact your traveling speed and time.

  1. The terrain, a complex obstacle

To make your trek easier you should familiarize yourself with the landscape you plan on traversing through. Read about what others have to say about your trail if you want to decrease the likelihood of problems.

Traveling alongside river beds is a quick way to reach your destination, but in certain terrains it could slow you more than you can afford. The time of the year also plays an important role and many hikers have gone off-trail through the vegetation. When traveling through the wilderness you should get to know the terrain. The following examples should come in handy when planning your next trip:

  • Research the terrain type and consider how sunny or shaded the trail may be. The sun may not become a problem in the forest, but in a deserted area, you will quickly get dehydrated.
  • Determine if your fitness level and hiking experience are suited for a particular hike. If the trail is marked as difficult and you are new to hiking, you are better off choosing another trail.
  • Check the number of miles in length of your trail and how high the elevation will get when hiking.
  • Think about the wildlife you will likely encounter along your trail and the time of the year. Certain animals have an impressive camouflage system and you should avoid a dangerous encounter.
  • Check if the trail you chose is an “in and out” trail or one that is looped.

Before you head out on your own, get instruction and advice from the local park rangers or orienteering club. They will tell you about what you should expect and will also educate you about the surrounding terrain.

Suggested reading: Know your region before disaster strikes

  1. The compass you should use

A compass is an extraordinary tool to help you navigate through the wilderness. It helps you measure directions in a stationery frame of reference, relative to the surface of the earth. It helps you orient our map and you can use it for taking bearings. A compass will help you determine where you are headed, which direction you need to follow and your current position.

I suggest keeping your compass and the map on you at all times so if you get separated from your bag, you can still have a chance of finding your way. Even more, you can choose a lightweight type, and you won’t feel its weight during long hikes.

  1. Managing time

When navigating through the wilderness, you need to learn how to effectively use time to your advantage. You should be able to reach your destination before it gets dark, especially if you didn’t properly plan for sheltering needs. You should make the most of daylight and you should know when you need to speed up or slow down based on the terrain you are traversing. Navigating through the wilderness at night is a completely different game and you should avoid being caught unprepared.

To keep it simple, if you read your map and you are halfway there, but it took you 2-3 hours longer than planned, it’s time to speed up. Far too many times, I’ve seen people navigating through the wilderness at night with nothing but their mobile phones illuminating the way ahead.

  1. The wilderness EDC

When you explore the great outdoors you need to have a proper survival bag, there is no question about it. However, you should also have a few survival items on you at all times. Call it the wilderness EDC if you may. The items you keep on you should be the minimum to assure your survival in case you get separated from your gear.

Having a good knife, a fire starter, a water filter and your mobile phone should be the minimum. Even a space blanket could be compacted and placed inside your pocket. For example, wearing a whistle around your neck is a smart idea to signal for help. It’s louder than yelling and you can keep going as long as you’re breathing.

Think about the gear you need to carry on you and get only the items you know how to use. I suggest researching about multi-purpose items and making the best of them. To give you a quick example, my knife has a whistle and fire starter incorporated into sheath.

My advice

You should never try navigating through the wilderness without being prepared. All the above are essentials for a safe travel and these suggestions will help you reach your destination. Mother Nature doesn’t play by your rules and it doesn’t care how smart or tough you think you are.

Give yourself a chance and plan carefully before every trip you make.  There are many articles about wilderness travel on Prepper’s Will and I recommend taking the time to read them. They will provide you with valuable information that may one day save your life.

Other Useful resources:

Homesteading Hacks that will make Your Life Better

Learning how to Safeguard a Home to outlast any crisis

How to survive any medical crisis situation


1 thought on “7 Essentials for Navigating Through the Wilderness Without a GPS”

  1. Along with compass and map, I add an altimeter to the list of my navigation tools. Add’s another dimension to position accuracy.


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