Map, Compass & GPS

Map, Compass & GPS
Wild flowers along Fall Creek on the way to the Green Lakes - Oregon

Friday, January 11, 2013

Moss on the North Side of a Tree

Can you really find north or south by looking at a tree?

I bring this up today because this topic has started to pop up in my land navigation classes.

Recently, one of my students told me about a Ray Mears' video on It's called the "Path Finder." To watch the video go here. The student asked my my opinion of Mears' methods.

He brings up some interesting topics and demonstrates determining direction;

  1. By looking at the growth of tree limbs (larger limbs on the south side)
  2. Finding a cut tree stump and determining directions based on the growth rings
  3. Using the hour hand of a watch to determine direction, and;
  4. Using the sun, stick and shadow method to determine direction.
I'd comment that numbers 1 & 2 above depends upon your location and latitude. There are a lot of variables with this method that may or may not work in the Pacific Northwest.

My survival class tested the tree limb theory on the campus of a college in the Willamette Valley of Oregon. Though there were several deciduous trees, most were fairly young and none convincingly pointed south.

Number 2, I've got to find a tree stump to check that out. Still, if you are on a north facing slope will you get that clear direction determination?

So, in my region of the Northwest, method 1 & 2 are not working for me.

Methods 3 & 4 have been illustrated in books for years. Do they work, sure. But I'd ask you to consider just how accurate these methods are. Rather than a specific heading such as 180 degrees (that is south) you will get a trend of direction; as in you are heading in a southerly direction. That may be all you need.

It might be hard to test out method 3 with a digital watch.

For more information about methods 3 & 4 take a look at the following references:

  1. Staying Found by June Fleming, Chapter 7

  2. Camping & Wilderness Survival by Paul Tawrell, start on page 175
Remember, no matter what you read or watch on TV - a new method - has to work for you. Test it out at home.

As an aside, I have enjoyed the few Ray Mears' videos that I have seen. If you are looking for a good video on backcountry survival in winter watch his BBC documentary, the Real Hero's of Telemark; here. It's is outstanding.

Update: June 20. I was able to link up with a friend (who has a doctorate in Forestry.) His sense was that trying to depend on the growth rings of a tree was risky and depended on too many variables to be of use.

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