Expert Advice: How to Find Your Way Without a Compass


Happy Marooned Without a Compass Day! To celebrate, we asked Kirk Reynolds, CEO and guide at the New York City-based Discover Outdoors for some tips on how to find your way out of any tricky situation, sans compass.

What is the easiest way for a total outdoors novice to orient themself without a compass?
This is one of my favorite games to play on a Discover Outdoors trip. My advice is to try at least two methods to confirm your orientation. The easiest way is to use a map. It may seem harmless to go on a hike without a map, but even the most seasoned outdoors-people can get lost. Look for landmarks: hills, rivers, trails, and man-made structures like roads, pipelines, and fire towers. Without question, this is your first move.

Are there other ways—perhaps a bit more advanced—that other people can use, too?
As wilderness guides, this is how we get to show off. Assuming you don't have a map:

1. Use your watch. If you don't have an analog watch, you can visualize where the numbers would be on the face. Take the watch off and align the hour hand with the sun. Imagine a line that intersects the halfway point between the hour and 12:00. That line is pointing south. For example, if it's 4:00, the halfway line will be pointing to 2:00. Note that in the summer, you will need to adjust for Daylight Savings by one hour, so move your hour hand back an hour. If you're in the Southern hemisphere, align the sun with 12:00 and the imaginary line will be pointing north.

2. Track the sun. This one takes more time. Find a patch of land that gets direct sunlight. Put a stick in the ground and place a mark at the tip of its shadow. Wait 30 minutes, and place another mark at the tip of the shadow. Draw a line between the two points and you can see approximately where east and west are.

A lot of non-compass ways of navigation rely on the sun—what do you do on a cloudy day?
Sometimes you can still get a shadow on a cloudy day, but as a backup, look at your environment. Moss typically grows on the north side of trees and rocks. Look for multiple samples to confirm. If it's a generally shaded or wet environment, the moss may grow on all sides. However, if you find a grove of trees that receives consistent sun, you have a decent indicator of north. Another way is to look at the hillsides. If you have a view of multiple hills, the drier, less-vegetated hillsides will face south.

The North Star is a good way to navigate, but are there other stars you can use?
This is getting really technical, but still easier than you think. Orion is a constellation that rises in the east and sets in the west. Look for Orion's belt, the three stars in the middle that form a line. They are pointing east/west and Orion's sword, which hangs from the belt, points south.

What was the first way you learned to navigate yourself without a compass?
It might be easier to tell you when I first started using a compass, which was much later in life. My parents took me on a lot of outdoor trips growing up, exploring many of the state and national parks across the country. With my father, I think navigating was mostly done intuitively, which may explain a few extra miles hiking on unintended trails. But I wouldn't trade those detours for anything.

Have you ever actually lost your compass on an excursion and had to put one of these ways into practice? Which one did you use?
What kind of guide would I be if I lost my compass?! But if I did, you can count on the watch method; at night, Polaris is a sure thing.

What's the best tip you can give people who have to navigate without a compass?
If you find yourself lost and without a compass, remember that you were born with instincts, and let that first calm your nerves. Never make a knee-jerk reaction or make a decision out of panic. Take your time, evaluate your surroundings, take a mental picture of how you got there, then remember the basics. The sun rises in the east and sets in the west. The sun is always south and the North Star is always north.

Mike Hewitt, Getty Images
How Many of the World's 20 Most Popular Museums Have You Visited?
Mike Hewitt, Getty Images
Mike Hewitt, Getty Images

If you went to the Louvre last year, you're in the company of 8.1 million people. According to the latest Museum Index from the Themed Entertainment Association [PDF], the Paris institution was the world's most-visited museum in 2017—an honor it hasn't earned since 2015.

Attendance at the Louvre went up 9.5 percent from 7.4 million visitors to 8.1 million between 2016 and 2017. The National Museum of China in Beijing, 2016's most popular museum attraction, also saw a significant 6.8 percent boost in traffic last year from 6.5 million to 8 million guests‚ landing in the No.2 spot. Two U.S. museums, the National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C. and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, are tied for the third slot with 7 million visitors each, and the Vatican Museums rank fifth with a 2017 attendance of 6.4 million.

The Louvre's impressive attendance numbers look much different than they did in the year following the Paris terror attacks of November 2015. The number of tourists traveling to the French capital dropped by 1.5 million in 2016, and the Louvre alone saw a 1.3 million decrease in visitors. The city has since rebounded, and in the middle of 2017 tourism to Paris was greater than it had been in a decade.

Museums around the world saw more people coming through their doors overall last year, with an attendance boost of 0.2 percent from 2016 to 2017. The museums with the biggest spikes were the Victoria & Albert Museum in London with 25.4 percent and the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C with 22.8 percent. Though the museum didn't make the top 20 list, the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in D.C. last year helped contribute to the 3 percent increase in museum traffic in North America.

You can find the full list below.

1. Louvre // Paris, France
2. National Museum of China // Beijing, China
3. National Air and Space Museum // Washington D.C., U.S.
    Metropolitan Museum of Art // New York City, U.S.
5. Vatican Museums // Vatican City
6. Shanghai Science & Technology Museum // Shanghai, China
7. National Museum of Natural History // Washington D.C., U.S.
8. British Museum // London, UK
9. Tate Modern // London, UK
10. National Gallery of Art // Washington D.C., U.S.
11. National Gallery // London, UK
12. American Museum of Natural History // New York City, U.S.
13. National Palace Museum // Taipei, Taiwan
14. Natural History Museum // London, UK
15. State Hermitage // St. Petersburg, Russia
16. China Science Technology Museum // Beijing, China
17. Reina Sofia // Madrid, Spain
18. National Museum of American History, Washington D.C., U.S.
19. Victoria & Albert Museum // London, UK
20. Centre Pompidou // Paris, France

You Can Now Rent the Montgomery, Alabama Home of Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald Through Airbnb
Chris Pruitt, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

The former apartment of Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald, perhaps the most famous couple of the Jazz Age, is now available to rent on a nightly basis through Airbnb, The Chicago Tribune reports. While visitors are discouraged from throwing parties in the spirit of Jay Gatsby, they are invited to write, drink, and live there as the authors did.

The early 20th-century house in Montgomery, Alabama was home to the pair from 1931 to 1932. It's where Zelda worked on her only novel Save Me the Waltz and F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote part of Tender Is the Night. The building was also the last home they shared with their daughter Scottie before she moved to boarding school.

In the 1980s, the house was rescued from a planned demolition and turned into a nonprofit. Today, the site is a museum and a spot on the Southern Literary Trail. While the first floor of the Fitzgerald museum, which features first-edition books, letters, original paintings, and other artifacts related to the couple, isn't available to rent, the two-bedroom apartment above it goes for $150 a night. Guests staying there will find a record player and a collection of jazz albums, pillows embroidered with Zelda Fitzgerald quotes, and a balcony with views of the property's magnolia tree. Of the four surviving homes Zelda and F. Scott lived in while traveling the world, this is the only one that's accessible to the public.

Though the Fitzgerald home is the only site on the Southern Literary Trail available to rent through Airbnb, it's just one of the trail's many historic homes. The former residences of Flannery O'Connor, Caroline Miller, and Lillian Smith are all open to the public as museums.

[h/t The Chicago Tribune]


More from mental floss studios