Picture of 3 Ways to Find North Without a Compass
This will probably come in handy some day...
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Step 1: Using an Analog Watch:

Picture of Using an Analog Watch:
- First off, you need an analog watch set to the correct time; if it has been adjusted for Daylight Savings set it back an hour

- In the Northern Hemisphere:
  • Point the hour hand (the little one) at the sun 
  • Imagine there is a line down the middle of the angle between the hour hand and the 12 o clock mark
  • The line down the middle of the angle is pointing South; so the opposite direction is North
- In the Southern Hemisphere:
  • Point the 12 o clock mark at the sun
  • Imagine there is a line down the middle of the angle between the 12 o clock mark and the hour hand
  • The line down the middle of the angle is pointing North

Step 2: Using the Shadow Tip Method:

Picture of Using the Shadow Tip Method:
- Take a stick and place it upright so you can see its shadow; the taller the stick the better
- Make sure the shadow is on clear, level ground
- Mark the ground at the edge of the shadow with something small like a pebble
- Wait 10 or 15 minutes then mark the edge of the shadow again
- Make a straight line between the two marks; this is a rough East-West line
- The first mark is the West mark and the second mark is the East mark

Step 3: Using Two Sticks at Night:

Picture of Using Two Sticks at Night:
- Lie down and drive one stick into the ground at eye level
- Drive a second, taller stick into the ground behind it so that the tips of the sticks line up with a bright star
- Watch the star for a few minutes; if it seems to move...
  • Up you are facing East
  • Down you are facing West
  • Right you are facing South
  • Left you are facing North


alex007 months ago

I use the North Star method at night. Here is how to find the North Star.

Once you have that, follow M3G's notes to line up 2 sticks and that will create your North South line. Make sure to mark the N/S line it on the ground so you will have it in the morning. I compared the star, vs shadow-tip, vs watch methods on a campout and they all lined up reasonably accurately to the reading of the compass.

Nice Instructable!

M3G (author)  alex007 months ago
Thanks for the comment!
texdanl10 months ago

Even with a digital watch the watch method works just fine. The important thing is that the watch gives you an accurate time to work with. Everyone, even in this digital age, KNOWS what a clock looks like. I can visualize it in my mind and find north OR draw a circle on the ground mark the place where the small hand should be then where the 12 should be and the line that bisects between these points is the north south line. The watch is just a handy tool but the INFORMATION it gives you is the thing that counts.

GREAT Ible by the way. The third one was especially good I thought.

M3G (author)  texdanl10 months ago
Thanks for the comment! You are quite right; the information given by the watch is what's important.
MartijnD1 year ago
And if it is cloudy and no sun, moon or stars can be seen, you can also look at moss on the base of trees, stones or buildings, this grows where the sun does not shine, so northern hemisphere north, southern south.

Hmm I was taught the moss one
differently. As far as I know it grows best on the damp side of the tree; and
because rain falls straight down if not pushed sideways by the wind the
trees should be damp on the side the wind comes from. The moss should
then grow on the side where the wind comes from most often over time, for us
(middle europe) that should be the west side.

I think I have to go outside and check this right now ^^

1201004 MartijnD11 months ago

moss does grow in the sun somewhat so this is not always accurate- I'd use the watch way or with the sticks, probably more accurate

120100411 months ago

These are all very good ways but another way is to use where the sun rises. It rises in the east and sets in the west so this is another way to find directions.

crazyzebb1 year ago
or just ask your G.U.
Saitu1 year ago
Dude, this is frickin brilliant, man! Love it!!!
M3G (author)  Saitu1 year ago
frosty8652 years ago
Wow haven't seen those in years! They used to teach that in Army Basic. Good one!
M3G (author)  frosty8652 years ago
This is wonderful, I am going to use this information in my classroom, thank you!
M3G (author)  EducationSmellsSweet2 years ago
You're welcome!
Northern Hemisphere, US or CA, urban or suburban environment, look to the satellite dishes.
zomfibame2 years ago
I like the 3rd one, using two sticks to track the movement of a star. Very cool.
M3G (author)  zomfibame2 years ago
WriterChick2 years ago
This is really, really clever. Anything which creates independence from gadgets (allowing that a pair of sticks doesn't constitute a "gadget") is always good. Thank you for sharing.
M3G (author)  WriterChick2 years ago
Thank you!
jaypauldini2 years ago
i always know which way is north. no matter where i am, wierd.
nailuj2 years ago

What about finding the North Star? It seem to me that it would be much easier.
M3G (author)  nailuj2 years ago
That would be easy, but not everyone knows where it is or what it looks like, and you can't see it in the Southern Hemisphere.
nailuj M3G2 years ago
Hmmmm. Good point.
XPinG nailuj2 years ago
Well in the southern hemisphere you can find the south using the Southern Cross please read
oud252 years ago
would this work with the moon as well?
M3G (author)  oud252 years ago
Good question! I'm not sure, ill have to try it and let you know.
In my opinion (I haven't tested) this would not work, as the moon does not orbit based on our time, or rather our time is not based on it's orbit. The reason that the sun works for this, is that our time has been based around its position in our sky. The sun, at noon, is always in the same place (close), while the moon can rise, fall or be at its peak at any time of day or night, depending on its current phase.
M3G (author)  GhettoEngineer2 years ago
Makes sense.
manuka2 years ago
(removed by author or community request)
manuka manuka2 years ago
I'm down here in the South Seas & agree such basic direction finding can be VERY valuable indeed- especially when lost... The best technique depends on how much time you have to wait around &/or observe of course. If a bunch of rascals are chasing you then a shadow tip may waste valuable escape time! A few comments -

* The watch trick is well & good, but few people wear an analog type these days ! Simply face & check the sun ( rises East,sets West) for orientation clues.

* Shadow sticks are dead simple & yield all sorts of insights- seasons & even latitude too.

* Overcast conditions may defeat sky aids, which is when the old "moss on damp side of the tree" trick assists. Naturally such moss (& other shade loving plants) grows best away from the direct sun, so it'll be on the north side "up top" & south side "down under"

* Winds - cruel chilly north wind in northern hemi ( cold southerlies in south)

* MOON - rises East, sets west. Altitude in sky varies with seasons & phase, BUT when facing it at highest point you'll be looking south ( in northern hemi) so north is behind you.

*Animals & insects -this depends on locality of course, but many build nest/lairs to exploit or limit solar pickup. So too do humans - sunniest side of house usually has best aspect/decks etc

Many others ! Stan.
M3G (author)  manuka2 years ago
Thanks for your insights! I thought that most people knew that the sun rose in the east and set in the west, so I didn't bother to include it. I didn't include the wind & insect methods, as I thought them a little unreliable. As for the watch method, I agree; less people wear analog watches, but you can always imagine an analog face o your digital watch. It's less accurate, but still works. As for the moss, I didn't know that. Thanks for letting me know!
repguy2020 M3G2 years ago
I guess my watch makes me an analogueasaurus.
manuka2 years ago
I recently quizzed a bunch of 11-12 yo. boys about direction finding, & very few appreciated the sun's rise & set compass positions... Sure - they knew where it got up locally, but when well away from home they were confused !
This is great, excellent for night hikes. This is the simplest way I have seen to correlate direction to star movement.
M3G (author)  audreyobscura2 years ago
Thank you!