Walking in circles

An experiment for you.
It comes in two parts.
Firstly, do you own a GPS that can track your walking?
If yes, wait for a dark, clear cloud free night and set it going.
Then put it in your pocket or backpack and forget about it.

Tell someone you are doing this!
There is a safety consideration here i.e. you might get lost!

Now, in an open space i.e. on a moor or in a large wood, anywhere unlit and without a worn path. Start walking in what you think is a straight line for about an hour.

Use only your senses i.e. don’t lock onto a well-lit feature like a TV mast and walk straight to it. Use the force Sky Walker!

OK, hours up, STOP.
Have a brew and review your GPS.
I know you are going to be in for a surprise.

Firstly you’re going to find out you haven’t been walking in a straight line at all. In fact some of you may have almost circled back or at least been walking in a spiral pattern getting tighter the longer you have walked.

The map below was the same experiment run by a scientist (Jan Souman, a research scientist in Germany) exploring why people can’t walk in a straight line without adequate visual references to guide themselves by. It’s a bit worrying isn’t it?

nightwalkingTwo subjects, dense forest, dim day, NOT EVEN AT NIGHT!

So what’s it all about.
We all have a dominant side (like shooting with our dominant eye). Without a visual reference that can be regularly updated, a person will always turn towards that side. You just can’t help doing that and it’s one of the main reasons why people get lost when rough walking (or nipping into the bushes for a pee) in a forest.

OK, not a problem, use either a compass or a star fix.
Perfect answer isn’t it. Well not quite.
Without a visual reference you will “crab” along a track line.
Crab? Drift from side to side of your desired track while still retaining the overall direction.
Here is an example of what I mean and it was using a really good ‘two degree a division’ compass.

Sorry, no really good graphic, I had to sketch it off the GPS screen.

nightwalkdriftAt the end I was 275 feet  (90 yards) off track?
OK, how did I find this out?
By pure maths i.e. using the two lat/long positions.
One being the targets position and the second from the GPS when a friend at the target called out to me as I walked level with him, he watching me using my night vision scope and my luminous sticker on my hat.

For distance measuring I was using ranger beads and I was about 200 yards out of stopping according to them AND I GOT IT WRONG! Why? Because at night your pace will be shorter in length, torch or not. Again, something to take into consideration.

Now I’m pretty good with a compass at night although I do take back fixes where possible and way point fixes along the route. Problem was I was in a wood. No visual points of reference.

Then I got clever and this is your second challenge.
What about taking a star fix i.e. walking towards the polar star.
No compass, just the Mk.1 eyeball.
Off I went on open moorland.
Um, embarrassingly I have to report that my WORSE error on the walk was nearly 580 yards off track.

Yet I was certain that I’d kept my eye firmly on Polaris.

Now consider that carefully.
No visual points of reference and unless you go high-tech i.e. GPS, you will miss your target.

Apply that to a caching scenario.
After all most UK cache lovers favor woodland locations don’t they?

Also apply that to a hostile environment and think about what being 580 yards off a safe track line might bring you. For example, a bog, quicksand, a cliff edge, aka dead!

And finally
Me talking about using high-tech, a GPS even?
(And actually owning a set of night vision too!)
The guy who insists the basic ways are better!
Yep, because when your life depends on accuracy you’d be stupid not to.

p.s. I’m not stupid, just old!

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7 Responses to Walking in circles

  1. Brittius says:

    Reblogged this on Brittius and commented:
    From what I can remember, when taught man tracking, usually, right handed people have a right dominant eye (for shooting) and a right dominant leg (for walking), and unless injured or wounded, right handed people circle walk, to the right, opposite for left handed or left wounded leg. There is a walking correction but I forgot. When tracking through jungle, there is no such thing as a straight line, it is theoretical. Read sign, for navigation, because we used to move in monsson rain and night. No GPS back then, and the rains would probably render the system inoperational. Also, if more than one person, such as platoon, company or squad, there is always at least one Security Man, who remembers what things look like for when you return or bug out. Security becomes point/point becomes security; Machine gun One becomes machine gun Two/ Machine gun Two becomes machine gun One.
    I watched American Indians “orient” or “set” their faces. Water in the northern hemisphere runs from north to south. North pole to equator. They would stand with water flow between their legs while facing north. After who knows, half hour (?), they claimed their faces could feel direction.

    • When tracking we did things simple. We used a dog.
      Well two actually. The lead dog was always the older one as they KNEW when it was unsafe to continue while the younger was sent in at the last moment. All power, teeth, and aggression.
      As for routes? When the dog wasn’t there, we got lost a lot. Still the DF stations knew our mic clicks and always radioed the course corrections.

  2. I learn something new every day. You often hear about lost people wandering in a circle. Now I know why. Now I don’t feel so bad that I have no sense of direction when driving a car.

    • It’s sometimes taken as an extension of bad situational awareness but no, it’s just one of those things that makes life difficult for the the lost, and those fleeing from something.

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