How to: Never get lostDon’t know where to go? These 6 tips will teach you how to never lose direction again
Digital maps are a wonderful thing, but when your smartphone battery dies, the world can seem like an impenetrable wilderness. At this point, it’s time to forget Google and turn to Gooley—that’s Tristan Gooley, explorer and author of The Natural Navigator.
Bored by the predictability of modern travel, the Brit looked to the likes of the Inuit, the Saharan Tuareg and Borneo’s Dayak people for traditional methods of navigation.
Gooley has since led expeditions across five continents and is the only living person to have both flown and sailed solo across the Atlantic.
His know-how won’t only lead you home, but help you find yourself: “A two-mile journey using stars, animals and trees to show the way gives me the same thrill I had as a kid in a dinghy.”
1 Learn how to look
“Your brain has evolved to spot motion, because it indicates threat or opportunity,” says Gooley. “We then notice shapes and colors. But you can override the software in your head. Scan from left to right and your brain is on autopilot—reading has made us used to this—but go right to left and you become more observant. Your eyes feed information to the brain in a slightly different way, so it knows it needs to pay attention to something.”
2 Now stop looking
“Sight is a bullying sense: When judging wind direction, your eyes will veer to that lone conifer 10 degrees off target. To tune in, close your eyes and turn your head so the wind feels equal on both sides of your nose. If it’s strong enough, you’ll hear a buffeting in each ear. Eyes still closed, do a karate chop into the wind; your hand should feel cool on both sides. Become oriented like this and you’ll never be caught out by a change in weather.”
3 Study plants, even in a desert
“If you’re crossing land and you come across a wet area, look at the plant life. Get to a spot that’s drier and look at the plants again. Based on these plant patterns, you’ve got a moisture map. So now you can say, ‘If we go that way we’ll be up to our waists, if we go that other way we’ll get wet boots, but this way is going to be dry all the way up that hill.’ It’s also useful to remember that trees grow more horizontally on the southern side of a hill and more vertically to the north.”
4 Read signs left by the elements
“I learned from the Tuareg nomads that when the wind blows over sand, it creates asymmetric ripples, shallow on the side the wind comes from, deeper on the other. The same happens on a beach, where these ripples reveal water flowing from the shallow side to the deep side, but not back. Asymmetric ripples with a flat top are a sign of tidal waters; symmetrical ripples show where the waves break. So whether you’re going for a swim, sail, surf or kayak, you can quickly build a map of what the water has done and is likely to do.”
5 Navigate rough waters
“The reflection of the setting sun on water is known as the glitter path. The width of the path tells you how rough the water is: The wider it is, the steeper the waves. An uneven width or signs of bulging reveal a rough patch of water or an area more exposed to the wind. This technique works for everything from moonlight on the high seas to a streetlight shining onto a village pond.”
6 Avoid night expeditions
“The Tuareg don’t travel at night. To show me why, they took me on a short walk and got me to find my way back. I struggled, even though I followed basic principles. I knew where north, south, east and west were, and I knew we’d walked a certain distance for 20 minutes, then west for another 20, but the angle of moonlight changes the landscape dramatically. The moon only has to shift 15 degrees and the desert looks completely different.”