Photo of snowy Sussex woodland trail Photo of snowy Sussex woodland trail

Little and Large Natural Navigation Clues

Sometimes natural navigation is more challenging than others.

I’m often asked, “What is the most difficult place to navigate using nature?”

I think people expect me to say things like ‘the desert’ or ‘the arctic’, but the two things that always make natural navigation tough are i) total cloud clover and ii) dense woodland.

When things are easy we can often find our way using a small number of large clues: the sun, moon, stars or landscape features, for example. In hot dry climates we can sometimes walk for days at a time using only the sun and a handful of other clues.

But when things are tougher, we have to use lots and lots of smaller clues to build a picture of where we are and the direction we need to head. In the short challenge in the video above I had to use almost every tree clue I know, the shape of the roots, branches, leaf sizes, angles and patterns, bark clues, as well as lichens, wind, flotsam, subtle gradients, animals, sounds and a lot more.

What sort of jigsaw is this?

We can think of each natural navigation challenge like a jigsaw puzzle. An easy jigsaw, one for a small child, may have only a few large pieces. A jigsaw for a keen adult that wants a tough challenge may have 1000 pieces. In both cases the aim is to build a clear picture.

I love the more difficult conditions, especially for short challenges, because it allows us to raise natural navigation to an art-form. When you are looking for lots of small pieces, you are choosing to become finely tuned. When you can sense changes in the shape of the land from the way sounds change in a fluctuating airflow… the jigsaw has a lot of pieces. Great fun, enjoy!

You may also enjoy:

Sounds Make a Map

How to Navigate Using Plants

The Beginner’s Guide to Natural Navigation – Online Course