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How to Navigate by the Stars

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Thinkstock

Explorers have used the stars as a compass for millennia, and if you’re out having adventures at night, you should add the skill to your arsenal. (If nothing else, it’s a killer party trick.) Here’s how to transform the night sky into your personal roadmap.

1) Learn the Big Three

According to the Royal Naval Academy, 58 stars are handy for navigation. You need to know 38 different constellations to find all of them. If that seems daunting, there’s a cheat code. Just learn to spot three constellations: Cassiopeia, Crux, and Orion. Also keep your eye on the Big and Little Dipper.

2) Find the North Star

It’s always within one degree of true north. So use the Big Dipper and Cassiopeia are your guides. Look at the Dipper’s ladle and pretend you’re pouring soup from it. The flow of that space soup will point straight to the North Star. If you hit a constellation that looks like a wonky ‘W,’ you’ve gone too far. That’s Cassiopeia. Recalculate your cosmic GPS and back up. The North Star is smack between Cassiopeia and the Big Dipper.

3) Shoot for the Moon

If you can find Orion’s sword, following its point will show you south. Alternatively, if there’s a crescent moon, draw an imaginary line from between its tips and follow it to the horizon. That’ll point your toward the penguins.

4) Down Under? No Problem!

The North Star isn’t visible below the equator. Instead, look for the constellation Crux—it resembles a kite. If you draw a line from the top of the kite to the bottom, it’ll point you south.

5) Move Like a Star

Like the sun, stars skate east to west. Tracking how they travel across the sky should tell you which way you’re facing. For something more precise, look to Orion’s belt. The star on the belt’s right side—Mintaka—rises close to true east and sets at true west.

6) Take a Survey

Forgot to memorize your constellations? There’s an easy fix. Simply place two sticks in the ground and set them one yard apart. Now pick a star—any star. Line it up with the tops of both sticks, as if you were looking down a rifle sight. The earth’s rotation will make the star “move.” If it runs left, you’re facing north. If it shifts right, you’re south. If it rises, you’re east. If it sinks, west.
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Now that you know how to use the stars, the sky is your compass. But if you’re trying to locate a more interesting beer, you don’t need the stars for that. Just head for a bar and ask for a Dos Equis.

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How to Cross a River Without a Bridge
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ThinkStock

Need to cross a roaring river? It’s always best to find a bridge, but if you absolutely must make it to the other side on your own, a few easy steps can keep you high and relatively dry.

1. Scout Around

Invest a little time in finding the best place to make your crossing. Avoid bends in the river, where water whips around the fastest. Once you find a suitable spot, walk downstream a few hundred feet to make sure there aren’t any hazards. It’s always good to know about the pesky 30-foot waterfall around the bend.

2. Don’t Be Narrow-Minded

They look tempting, but narrow crossings can be the most dangerous—they’re often the deepest part of the river. Look for the widest section instead. Keep an eye out for mild ripples—which are safe to cross—and avoid whitecaps, which can be treacherously slippery.

3. Ditch Your Duds

If the water will reach your knees, strip down to your skivvies - your pride isn’t worth getting hypothermia from wet clothes. Even if the river is shallow, remove your socks and put on a second pair of shoes if you have them. If you’re backpacking, unbuckle your front straps so you can quickly slip out of your pack if you fall.

4. Shuffle Up

Face upstream, lean into the current, and move across the river with shuffling sidesteps. You’re less likely to fall while sidestepping since you don’t lift your feet as high. If you’re with a group, link arms. The technique creates more contact points with the streambed and gives everyone a more solid footing.

5. Become a Bump on a Log

If the rapids are too fast, shuffling across may be a bad idea. Look for a log that spans the whole river instead. But don’t walk on it! Wet wood can be dangerously slippery. Instead, straddle the log and scoot along until you reach the other side.

6. Float Away

In situations where the river is deep but the current isn’t very swift, a football or soccer ball can be a handy improvised flotation device. Tether it to your wrist and grab on when you get tired of swimming. Or hug it with one arm as you sidestroke for extra buoyancy.
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Once you make it to the opposite shore, dry off and toast your successful crossing with a round of Dos Equis.

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