Officer & Gent

Night Time Navigation Without Compass

Before GPS and even before maps and compasses, men were able to navigate the world simply by looking to the sky and his natural surroundings.  Sadly, because of a dependence on technology, the ability to navigate without tools has become a forgotten skill.  While technology is certainly convenient, it can let you down when you need it most.  For this first look at navigation sans (in the absence of) compass or GPS, we will be focusing on Night time techniques.

North Star Technique:

The North Star, who’s name is Polaris, has served as a navigational reference for generations of lost soldiers, sailors and explorers.  To find Polaris, scan the starlit night sky for the  Big Dipper – a constellation of seven rather bright stars, with four of them forming the dipper itself, three more the handle.  Next, find the Big Dipper’s “Pointer Stars”, Dubhe and Merak (see illustration below).  These two stars are the furthest stars from the handle.  Simply draw a line from Merak through Dubhe, and go about 5 times the Merak/Dubhe distance to Polaris.

Polaris also marks the end of the Little Dipper‘s handle, however, the Little Dipper is tougher to spot in the night sky than the Big Dipper.


Now that you have found the North Star, orient yourself to the cardinal directions.  Face Polaris and stretch your arms straight out from your body.  Your right hand points due east, and your left hand points due west. About-face and you will be oriented due south.

Marking the North Star:

If you do not intend to travel by night but need to know directions for travel the next morning, use a short stick and a longer one for sighting toward the North Star.

sighting stick
Illustration by Bob Handville / Boys’ Life – Mar 1965

Lie flat on the ground and place a stick in the ground.  This is like your front rifle site.  Next, take a second stick, which will need to be slightly shorter than the first, and line up the tops of the sticks with the North Star, as you drive the closer stick into the ground.  In the morning draw a line between the sticks.  This will be a true south-north line, with the south toward the shorter stick, north toward the longer.

Gentlemen, why are lessons like this important?  What if I told you the enemy has the ability to create a bubble where your GPS does not work.  What if I told you that in this bubble your compass will give faulty readings.  If I were you, I’d stick this information in my kit bag.  I would teach it to the soldiers in my unit, or the scouts in my troop.  You may need to rely on these sooner than you think.

– CPT Mills

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