Traveling

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ReasonSharp

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Jul 29, 2015
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Croatia
I'm writing a short story. I'm not very skilled at bushcraft, although since I started researching for this story I've become interested in it so I have decided to try it sometime soon.

With regard to the story, suppose you had to traverse a great distance on foot through thick woods you did not know. Think in terms of a journey that could take as long as a month, or longer. You follow a stream upstream, then have to part with it at some point to find another source of water. You have no map or compass. What do you do before you part ways with the stream? Assuming you may not find another source of water on your first attempt, how would you make sure you found your way back?

Any suggested reading on orientation and traveling through wilderness (forests in particular) is also welcome. Thanks.
 

C_Claycomb

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Oct 6, 2003
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The standard way of leaving a trail to follow back is to cut blazes on trees, or build cairns of stones, put branches up on stones, cairns or in low growth pointing in the direction of travel. The way-markers are spaced at changes of course, or decision points. When visibility is low then they may be spaced at the edge of vision.
 
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ReasonSharp

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Jul 29, 2015
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Great, thanks this is exactly what I needed.

I assume when no stones are available then fallen branches, leaves, and pine needles work just as well.
 

Broch

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Jan 18, 2009
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Great, thanks this is exactly what I needed.

I assume when no stones are available then fallen branches, leaves, and pine needles work just as well.
It depends on the terrain and the undergrowth. As Chris says there are plenty of 'obvious' ways of marking a route and it depends on whether you want others to see your trail or not.

A practiced tracker wouldn't need to leave a trail - he/she would be able to follow their own track back - something worth practicing yourself if you get the chance. Obviously, dense undergrowth makes it easier. One way we used to leave less obvious trails was to break twigs and small branches on the side of a tree pointing in the direction we were walking. So, if you come to a change in direction, snap a twig on that side. You can use a forked stick in the same way - lay a stick down on the ground with a side twig pointing the direction of travel.

Actual navigation in dense woodland is very difficult; you can't see the sun to use a watch for navigation, you can't see stars, there can be little or no breeze to indicate prevailing wind, and moss does NOT grow on the North face of the tree trunks :) - it's why people can go around in circles for days.

Indigenous tribes still leave blazes on routes through forests as Chris described earlier. It's very likely that early man used streams as maps in dense woodland - so would not leave a stream until he came to a fork and would mark that fork on a stone, piece of bark, or even wood; it's very easy then to reverse your tally back - some Mesolithic 'art work' looks very much like stream/river maps (have a look at the Star Carr pendant).

 
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Broch

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It is a great book but even Mr Gatty states that plant indication of direction is only any good when the plants are in the open. You'll notice that there is no chapter on 'Finding your way in Jungle' - or even dense forest.
 

Oliver G

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Sep 15, 2012
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There's a good book called Natural Navigator by Tristan Gooley, you could have the character pick up some of the tips and tricks in the book organically to build their internal compass, a month of observation would develop some good skills.

If they need to get to a particular point on the river (Food Cache?) there is a trick to getting to a point on a linear feature. Say the river is running north to south and you head east from a particular point. On the return if you guess where west is you will either end up upstream or downstream from the point you left, meaning you don't know to turn left or right to get to where you need to be. If you take west by south or west south west on the way back you know for certain when you hit the stream you will be downstream of where you need to be and you know to turn right and travel upstream to the point of departure.
 

ReasonSharp

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Jul 29, 2015
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1
Croatia
Thanks for all the great suggestions. I can use many of them in this story and others in the series I plan to write (and in real life). I'll also definitely read the book, @Corso.

@Oliver G, the character is meant to learn how to navigate, but over a course of multiple stories I plan to write out of chronological order. This particular one takes place in a vast, seamless forest that is reminiscent of an artificial pine forest I once wandered into. It was quite dark even in broad daylight and due to that the ground is covered solely in pine needles and virtually no undergrowth. Also in the story the forest is supposed to be ancient and much larger than what I encountered. Also the trees aren't as evenly spaced as in the real-life forest, so the character can't just follow a row of trees to get out on the opposite side.

In this particular story I don't yet plan for him to have learned to follow his tracks, so he will be leaving markings such as others have described. I can fit that nicely into what I have in mind for the story.
 
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C_Claycomb

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Whatever you use needs to stand out from the natural background clutter of branches, stones, leaves etc. It also needs to be durable enough that it won't be obliterated by a little wind or rain. If snow is possible, leaving sticks in arrow shapes on the ground carries the risk of them being covered over. Of course, if it snows, you have water but need to melt it, but the principle holds for navigation in general. If you have a cutting tool, the cut ends of branches are unnatural and will stand out more than breaking branches. Breaking green wood leaves a distinct splintered, pale, break, and is also unusual compared to the breaking of dead wood from the forest floor. Maybe stones are covered in moss, but turning one over shows the bare stone underneath. Elevated signs are easier to see from a distance. This is why blazing trees was so widely used by pioneers and explorers; quick, visible, slow to fade, hard to cover over.

A lot would also depend upon the sort of terrain and the forest. Dense foliage indicates there is water around. Dry forest tends to be more open and allow you to see further, not that this is always a help. Hills give additional navigation clues and funnel water in predictable ways. Flat land covered in uniform vegetation or a uniform mix is hard to navigate. So much depends on keeping your mental trail of bread-crumbs up dated.

Lots of indigenous people who live close to the land rely upon local knowledge handed down the generations.

I was told a story by a friend about the British military going to the Bedouin to help train air crews who might crash in the desert. Paraphrasing a bit... The Brits asked what the locals would do if they found themselves in a strange part of the desert where they didn't know the oases, how would they find water. To which the answer was, they wouldn't, they would die. The Brits reported that the Bedouin could teach them nothing about desert survival.

Locals live in these places because they do not need to keep re-inventing solutions.
 
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SaraR

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Mar 25, 2017
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Ceredigion
I'm writing a short story. I'm not very skilled at bushcraft, although since I started researching for this story I've become interested in it so I have decided to try it sometime soon.

With regard to the story, suppose you had to traverse a great distance on foot through thick woods you did not know. Think in terms of a journey that could take as long as a month, or longer. You follow a stream upstream, then have to part with it at some point to find another source of water. You have no map or compass. What do you do before you part ways with the stream? Assuming you may not find another source of water on your first attempt, how would you make sure you found your way back?

Any suggested reading on orientation and traveling through wilderness (forests in particular) is also welcome. Thanks.
Once restrictions are lifted, I suggest you go to a dense forest and try some of the suggestions out yourself. It's amazing how quickly you can lose sight of an "obvious" feature in dense woods. Either because you just don't see them on the way back, you miss the spot with a few metres, or there are 'a million' broken twigs looking just the same as your intentionally broken twig. :)

Light levels are also important. Try finding a light blue blaze on trees at dusk...

Depending on the location, following a stream to it's source usually means gaining some height and getting to potentially less dense woods, which might allow for glimpses of the bigger landscape.

Unless he's going to stream-hop for the whole month, I assume he would soon improvise a water carrier of some description, in which case he'd be able to go further and therefore straighter between water sources (streams, springs, tree/rock hollows, collecting rain and dew, evaporation from leaves etc) And then there are berries, fruit and -if he's hunting- blood.
 

Mesquite

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One thing I read that some indigenous people do when traveling in an area they don't know and intend to return the way they came was to look backwards regularly.

When you're going somewhere you're focused on what's ahead of you not what's going to be in front of you on your return journey. Looking back regularly helps build up a mental picture of that return journey
 

SaraR

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Mar 25, 2017
467
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Ceredigion
One thing I read that some indigenous people do when traveling in an area they don't know and intend to return the way they came was to look backwards regularly.

When you're going somewhere you're focused on what's ahead of you not what's going to be in front of you on your return journey. Looking back regularly helps build up a mental picture of that return journey
I do this all the time when out walking in a new place, be it in the countryside or in cities. Having seen what it would look like coming back, you immediately recognise it on the return journey.
 

Corso

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It is a great book but even Mr Gatty states that plant indication of direction is only any good when the plants are in the open. You'll notice that there is no chapter on 'Finding your way in Jungle' - or even dense forest.
He's writing a story? bit of poetic license allowed surely

There will be natural clearing in woodland even if its just caused by a fallen tree.

Natural navigation would surely be a better answer that track markings in dense forest - you can walk 5 yards and disappear with a high viz vest on in woodland even in the UK...
 

TeeDee

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Nov 6, 2008
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One thing I read that some indigenous people do when traveling in an area they don't know and intend to return the way they came was to look backwards regularly.

When you're going somewhere you're focused on what's ahead of you not what's going to be in front of you on your return journey. Looking back regularly helps build up a mental picture of that return journey

Always do this when parking your car in a new location if unfamiliar with the area - look back , find the tallest closest highly prominent visibility indicator you can - Tower , bridge , Aerial etc
 
You could make yourself a primitive map as you go. You know where you started. You walked in a straight(ish) line for 10 minutes, past the big fallen oak. Then veered left about 30 degrees and went on for 25 minutes, crossed the stream, through the clearing and up the short steep slope. You could see a fire lookout tower about 5km away at 90 degrees to your direction of travel. Etc. etc. If you plot all this at a suitable scale on a piece of paper you can get a general idea of where you are in relation to where you set off. Using blazes as mentioned above, and markers of various sorts, and aligning features, both ahead of you and behind you, so that you know you are travelling in straight(ish) legs will help enormously.
You don't need a compass as each leg is relative to the last. And scale is minutes / hours on each leg.
You can follow these principles even in forest with numerous trails. Just record the trail branches off the one(s) you are on, along with the time at each.
A search for the terms 'surveying traverse' or 'compass traverse' will give you some more detail. (Adapted suitably for the absence of a compass, of course!)
 
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I'm writing a short story. I'm not very skilled at bushcraft, although since I started researching for this story I've become interested in it so I have decided to try it sometime soon.

With regard to the story, suppose you had to traverse a great distance on foot through thick woods you did not know. Think in terms of a journey that could take as long as a month, or longer. You follow a stream upstream, then have to part with it at some point to find another source of water. You have no map or compass. What do you do before you part ways with the stream? Assuming you may not find another source of water on your first attempt, how would you make sure you found your way back?

Any suggested reading on orientation and traveling through wilderness (forests in particular) is also welcome. Thanks.
Why do you have to leave this water source? is it going in the wrong direction? I ask because it makes a difference when coming back & trying to find it again.
C_Claycomb is correct in regards to blazing a trail with a belt axe or tomahawk, or using rocks or timber to mark your trail. If you have a specific direction to go in, then obviously it is best to use a pocket compass.
Copy of an 18th century sundial compass.
If you have no compass, then you need to decide on the direction you wish to take. Did you have a direction in the first place? We come back to my original question, why did you leave the original water course? In which direction were you travelling?
If you put your back against a tree & find a marker in the distance, eg a mountain, a hill, a very large tree or something that stands out. Line up another tree in your path with this marker. You walk towards this tree. When you reach the tree, put your back against the tree & repeat the process. Marking your trail as you go ON ALL FOUR SIDES OF THE TREES. This last point is important, because (a) you need to be able to follow the blazes back from the other direction, & (b) if you do go off track, you will be able to see the blazes from any direction & get back to the trail. MAKE SURE THE BLAZES CAN BE EASILY SEEN, & MAKE SURE THAT YOU CAN SEE THE NEXT BLAZE FROM THE ONE YOU ARE STANDING NEXT TO. If you do not want to remove a strip of bark to blaze the trail, get yourself some rolls of bright coloured surveyor's tape.
If you are looking for running water, then your best bet is low ground, in a valley or gully. You can find ponds or pools on high ground & in bowls in rock.

Keith.
 

C_Claycomb

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...

Natural navigation would surely be a better answer that track markings in dense forest - you can walk 5 yards and disappear with a high viz vest on in woodland even in the UK...
Guess it is another of those "depends" things. When I was with Stuart in the jungle, we were either walking up the river, frequently thigh deep, or walking on game trails on the ridges. In either case, following a linear feature. Blazes on trees, made on previous trips, acted as turn signs for changing direction and greatly aided relocating places.

I don't think anyone who is really navigating leaves "natural" nav in their bag of tricks even when using other things. Just because you mark a tree doesn't mean you are not also using the sun, wind, slope, distant land marks, foot marks, or animal tracks. Track marks can help for getting back to a very specific location, like finding a particular camp site, cache, or safe route down a slope.
 

Erbswurst

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Mar 5, 2018
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Every more or less educated survivalist who got lost in the woods without a map of the area would follow the first little stream he finds until he meets people or a road.
Nobody would leave this water source because as long as one doesn't meet people one can drink from it after boiling it and if that's impossible without boiling it with a very low risk.
Along the stream are the best chances to find something to eat.
 
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