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How to Survive

If your GPS blinks out in the wilderness, “stop moving,” says Staff Sgt. Mark Dornford, an instructor at the Air Force’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) school near Fairbanks, Alaska. “People will start to panic, continue to move, and become even more lost.” First, try to remember your route or the location of major landmarks like rivers, roads, or, best case, a town. Move to high ground to get a better sense of your surroundings. (!!) Worst case? Pick a direction and plan to walk in a straight line. If you’re traveling in the Northern Hemisphere and wearing an analog watch set to local time, hold it flat and point the hour hand at the sun. Run an imaginary line between the hour hand and the 12 o’clock mark. This will give an approximate north-south marker. No watch? Take a straight stick about three feet long, drive it into level ground, and mark the spot where the stick’s shadow ends. This is west. After 20 minutes, mark the shadow’s new location and connect the dots. This is a rough east-west axis. Once you’ve figured out your direction of travel, use simple point-to-point navigation to stay on course: Pick an object in the distance—a tree or mountain—and walk straight toward it. At each new point, pick another one farther ahead. Regularly use your watch to ensure you’re staying on the right heading.

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