How to Estimate Distances in the Outdoors

How to Estimate Distances in the Outdoors
The ability to estimate outdoor distances can prove useful to hunters, hikers, photographers and others who enjoy outdoor activities. This can also be a useful survival tool when attempting to determine where you are or should be going. Estimating distances outdoors is based on the simple concept that your outstretched arm is about 10 times as long as the distance between your eyes. Using this as a reference along with some basic math calculations can help to estimate distances fairly accurately.


Difficulty: Moderately Challenging

Things You’ll Need:
  • Distant object
  • Extended arm, thumb up
Step 1
Select a distant object that the width can be accurately determined. For example, use a large rock outcropping. Estimate the width of the rock. Use 200 feet wide as an example here.
Step 2
Face the object and extend an arm straight out in front of you. Point the thumb up as if you were hitchhiking.
Step 3
Close one eye and line up one edge of your thumb with the edge of the rock. You will use the same edge throughout the measurement process.
Step 4
Hold your thumb still, and close the eye used to sight the rock and open the other eye. Use the same edge of the thumb as before and note the distance your thumb "jumps" to the side. Your thumb seems to move as the result of a change in the angle of view from one eye to the other.
Step 5
Estimate the distance your thumb moved using the rock as a measurement. For example, if your thumb seemed to move two rock widths, that would equal 400 feet. Multiply 400 by the ratio of 10 (arm length = 10 (x) distance between eyes) for a total of 4,000 feet.

Tips & Warnings

Practice calculating distance using this method with a variety of objects at various distances.
Do not wait until a critical situation arises in the field to learn how to estimate with this method.

Article Written By Keith Dooley

Keith Dooley has a degree in outdoor education and sports management. He has worked as an assistant athletic director, head coach and assistant coach in various sports including football, softball and golf. Dooley has worked for various websites in the past, contributing instructional articles on a wide variety of topics.

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