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How to find true north

compass.jpgYou’re lost in the woods. That’s bad. You forgot your compass. That’s worse. But it’s not hopeless.

There are several techniques you can use to find true north and get yourself reoriented.

The Watch Trick

If you’ve got a watch, and it’s not digital, you can use it like a compass. First, point the hour hand towards the sun. Then find an imaginary line halfway between the hour hand and the 12 on the watch face. (During daylight savings time, the halfway line is between the hour hand and the 1.) That imaginary line points south. North, of course, is 180 degrees in the other direction.

If you’ll wait awhile, you can watch the sun and see which way it is moving. If it’s rising, that’s east. If it’s setting, that’s west. You’re oriented.

The Needle Trick

If you’re lucky enough to have remembered your first-aid kit, get a needle from it. Rub it on the silk liner of your sleeping bag or other material, and the resulting static electricity magnetizes it.

Lay the needle on a blade of grass and float that in a cup of water. It will orient itself in a north-south axis. You’ll have to guess which way is north, but at least you’ll have a 50-50 change of being right.

The Stick Trick

Find a stick that is about three feet long. Poke it in the ground so that it is standing straight up. Then place a rock at the end of the shadow cast by the stick. Wait about 15 minutes.

Now place another stone at the end of the second shadow. With your back to the stick, stand with your left toe touching the first rock, and your right toe touching the second rock. You’re facing north.

Draw an imaginary line from the first rock marker to the second. West is the direction of the first marker.

The Oldest Trick in the Book

But if you have no watch, no needle and the sun has gone down, stay put. Rescuers look near where you were last; if you wander, you’re less likely to be found.

11 Comments on How to find true north

  1. Spacescout // July 10, 2009 at 9:22 am // Reply

    Don’t also forget about moss. More moss show on the NORTH side, so the spot with the most moss is north.

  2. “The Stick Trick” It doesn´t work.

  3. ducky 10444 // June 2, 2008 at 11:00 pm // Reply

    remember the north star is NOT the brightest star.

  4. Old Scout 1960 era // December 18, 2007 at 12:12 am // Reply

    Pay attention to the moon.

    It can point out East or West to you.

    Think of the crescent moon as a bow (Diana, the Greek Goddess of the hunt and the moon’s bow) with an arrow aimed at the sun.

    In the evening the bow will point at the sun below the westren horizon.

    In the morning the bow points at where the sun will rise on the eastren horizon.

  5. paintballer 22 // November 18, 2007 at 7:06 pm // Reply

    awsome I could never find north!

  6. no gps always lost // August 9, 2007 at 6:05 pm // Reply

    Hey, this is great. I have been slightly off my path before (oops) high in the Rockies (even worse) and alone (really dumb!). This could have saved my life if I had not found the trail I was hiking on a few minutes later. I was lucky that time. Technology fails and we rely too much on it. Some old fashioned orienteering know how is great.

  7. 1666621662. // August 1, 2007 at 3:24 pm // Reply

    don’t for get stars they can be your freind, the northstar can be your best freind.

  8. Don’t forget the stars! They’re your friend…particularly Polaris, “the North star.”

  9. I knew All of those :>

  10. Lighting Mcqueen // July 17, 2007 at 11:26 am // Reply


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