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How to Find True North Without Using a Compass


You’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.

3 Comments on How to Find True North Without Using a Compass

  1. Cut down a tree or find a freshly felled tree stump..the rings on the stump are closer together on the south side…fence posts no good though..

  2. The stick trick would make more sense to people that don’t understand directions if you rotate the picture 90 degrees counterclockwise.

  3. Suburban Camper // November 12, 2017 at 8:32 pm // Reply

    Satellite dishes face south?

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