How to navigate in Extreme Environments

Natural navigation has long been used by those travelling in extreme environments, like the Arctic and the desert.

The sun, moon and stars can of course still be used in these environments, but one technique that is specific to these parts is an intimate understanding of the way the wind sculpts the land’s surface. The North American Inuit are able to read the shape of the ice’s surface and from this work out which wind caused the each ‘sastrugi’ or ice ridge to form. This gives them a strong sense of direction in even the worst visibility.

In the Sahara, traditionally nomadic cultures, like the Bedouin or Tuareg, read sand in a similar way.

A windy day in the Libyan Sahara. After sheltering for a few hours from a sandstorm, we try to take advantage of a lull in the wind to make a few miles.

I have studied these methods in the Libyan Sahara with the Tuareg, in Borneo with the Dayak and led my own research expeditions into the Arctic. I have taught these techniques to groups from the UK to Oman.

These methods and lots of others can be found in my books, The Natural Navigator and The Walker’s Guide to Outdoor Clues & Signs and How to Read Water

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For a complete guide to Natural Navigation read Tristan's books.

The Natural Navigator Pocket Guide

The Lost Art of Reading Nature’s Signs

The Natural Explorer

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