Introduction: 3 Ways to Find North Without a Compass

Picture of 3 Ways to Find North Without a Compass

This will probably come in handy some day...

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



EmilH4 (author)2016-01-09

why not go after anthills or moss on treetrunks? easiest way ever to find direction in woods since they are the same everywhere no matter wich hemisphere you're in

WillieHaze (author)EmilH42017-09-20

moss method is not reliable

VictorBJJCA (author)EmilH42017-01-12

how does that work

MortenJ7 (author)EmilH42016-04-27

The moss method is so not usefull. I remember seeing an episode of Desperate Housewives where Susan gets lost. She finds a tree and that tree is covered in moss... everywhere. That is how the nature is. Moss is everywhere. Not just on 1/4 of the trunk...

JamesW33 (author)EmilH42016-01-17

The moss method isn't always reliable, I believe it has something to do with wind direction, which I would imagine is to do with wind erosion, so for moss to face north the wind would mostly have to come from the south. I'm hypothesising so don't take it as gospel, but it would make sense that the moss would not grow in the face of strong wind.

M3G (author)EmilH42016-01-09

How does the anthill method work? I've never heard of that before.

gerson.melgar (author)2017-02-01

the third one is cool i would like to know how long would it take to get results

oud25 (author)2012-10-08

would this work with the moon as well?

M3G (author)oud252012-10-08

Good question! I'm not sure, ill have to try it and let you know.

GhettoEngineer (author)M3G2012-10-08

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)GhettoEngineer2012-10-08

Makes sense.

Volkivich (author)M3G2017-01-29

You can use the moon for direction finding by using another method. If moon rise is before midnight then west is in the direction indicated by the (imaginary) line drawn through the central point of the outer edge of the moons crescent to the moons "centre".

If moon rise is after midnight then the line indicates east.

This method works because moonlight is just reflected sunlight. So if it moonrise is before midnight the moonlight you are seeing is being reflected from the sun setting in the west. Moonrise after midnight is lit by the sun rising in the east.

The only times you cannot use this method is on a full moon (full reflection) or new moon (no reflection).

M3G (author)Volkivich2017-01-29

I didn't know that, thanks for sharing!

daisy1997 (author)2016-06-22

I like trains

xXSeaW (author)2015-10-30

this didnt help...

Sehrum (author)2015-10-19

How is it "possible", that your words (NH "...The line DOWN the middle of the angle is pointing South; so the OPPOSITE direction is North..."
and vice versus) in step 1 (Using an analog watch) is from my point of
understanding, actually contridicting the facts of your drawing...?!?

M3G (author)Sehrum2015-10-19

Hmm, I suppose the word "down" wasn't very clear. What I meant to say was that the line between/in the middle of the angle points south.

Ploopy (author)2015-06-13


Now there is no excuse for getting lost. :P

tonytran2015 (author)2015-05-21

I just made public my improvement to the watch method ( by tonytran2015). Basically i use a watch tilted from vertical position rather than a horizontal watch. I found the method accurate and has relied on it for 10 years. I would appreciate if author M3G and readers can read it and give comments.

Meleon (author)2014-08-15

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)Meleon2014-08-15

Thanks for the comment!

texdanl (author)2014-06-02

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)texdanl2014-06-02

Thanks for the comment! You are quite right; the information given by the watch is what's important.

MartijnD (author)2013-05-07

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.

Hexacyanoferrat (author)MartijnD2014-04-25

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 (author)MartijnD2014-04-22

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

1201004 (author)2014-04-22

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.

crazyzebb (author)2013-06-13

or just ask your G.U.

Saitu (author)2013-05-23

Dude, this is frickin brilliant, man! Love it!!!

M3G (author)Saitu2013-05-23


frosty865 (author)2012-12-06

Wow haven't seen those in years! They used to teach that in Army Basic. Good one!

M3G (author)frosty8652012-12-06


EducationSmellsSweet (author)2012-11-05

This is wonderful, I am going to use this information in my classroom, thank you!

M3G (author)EducationSmellsSweet2012-11-05

You're welcome!

jfieldsfamily (author)2012-10-22

Northern Hemisphere, US or CA, urban or suburban environment, look to the satellite dishes.

zomfibame (author)2012-10-21

I like the 3rd one, using two sticks to track the movement of a star. Very cool.

M3G (author)zomfibame2012-10-21


WriterChick (author)2012-10-11

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)WriterChick2012-10-11

Thank you!

jaypauldini (author)2012-10-11

i always know which way is north. no matter where i am, wierd.

nailuj (author)2012-10-08

What about finding the North Star? It seem to me that it would be much easier.

M3G (author)nailuj2012-10-08

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 (author)M3G2012-10-08

Hmmmm. Good point.

XPinG (author)nailuj2012-10-09

Well in the southern hemisphere you can find the south using the Southern Cross please read

manuka (author)2012-10-08

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)manuka2012-10-08

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 (author)M3G2012-10-08

I guess my watch makes me an analogueasaurus.

manuka (author)2012-10-08

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 !

audreyobscura (author)2012-10-07

This is great, excellent for night hikes. This is the simplest way I have seen to correlate direction to star movement.

M3G (author)audreyobscura2012-10-08

Thank you!

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