Introduction: 6 Wrist Watch Survival Hacks

Picture of 6 Wrist Watch Survival Hacks

No one sets out to get lost, but when it happens you need to make the most of what you have on hand...or on your wrist.

Though the humble wristwatch is something that many of us might take for granted, did you know that there's a few tricks up your sleeve with this tiny timepiece? For example, there's ways to start a fire, tell direction, and even a way to make an emergency blade...all from an unassuming wristwatch!

Follow along as we explore several uses to help you survive in the wild with your wristwatch.

Step 1: Tell Direction

Picture of Tell Direction

Before dismantling your watch, you can actually use it as a simple compass to help tell direction. This trick will require any analog clock or watch and be preformed during daylight hours.

The process is slightly different depending on which hemisphere you're in, but both follow the same steps:

Norther Hemisphere
Lay the watch flat on your hand with the clock facing upwards, then rotate the entire watch until the hour hand is pointing in the direction of the sun. The point midway between the hour hand and the 12 on the watch will be South.

Southern Hemisphere
Lay the watch flat on your hand with the clock facing upwards, then rotate the entire watch until the 12 hand is pointing in the direction of the sun. The point midway between the hour hand and the 12 on the watch will be North.

From here you can determine the rest of the compass directions.

Step 2: Dismantle Watch

Picture of Dismantle Watch

Watches contain loads of smaller components that can be used in a variety of survival situations.

Most watches are easily opened up from the back. Look around the back plate for a small notch that can be used to pry off the backing with a sharp knife. Be careful here, as the watch back is fitted very tightly.

With the back of the watch removed, the remaining components can be easily removed from the watch housing. The glass front of the watch is also pressure fit in place, and can be carefully knocked out of the metal housing with a blunt stick, or rock wrapped in cloth.

Step 3: Start a Fire

Picture of Start a Fire

Many watches use a convex lens as the glass cover over the watch face, this makes reading the time easier. The lens is perfect for focusing the sun to start a fire.

Wipe the lens clean of any smudges and hold it about 6 inches from your dry tinder. You'll want to hold the lens perpendicular to the sunlight and move the lens to focus the sun into a point of light. Move this point to the tinder and hold for a few seconds, the intense focused beam of light is incredibly hot and should easily ignite your tinder and start your fire.

Step 4: Primitive Sundial

Picture of Primitive Sundial

It might seem silly to make a sundial from a watch, but if you're stranded and your watch runs out of batteries then this is a pretty good use.

Though sundials might seem primitive, they are actually carefully designed based on where they are manufactured as the sun casts different shadows based on where you are located latitudinally. To compensate for shadow length the arm that extends out from the dial plate and casts the shadow is set at different angles, this arm is called the gnomon. To tell correct time the gnomon needs to be parallel with the earth's axis and should point towards True North (see the step about using your watch as a compass).

It would help if you knew your approximate latitude before you set out, this will be the approximate degree that your gnomon should be set at. For example, if you're camping somewhere in Northern California you could approximate your latitude as 40º, therefore your gnomon angle for your sundial should be 40º.

Obviously this isn't going to give you precise time, but can help you keep track of the day while you are stranded. Start by aligning the sundial to the 12 when the sun is at its highest above you. By spending more time with your sundial you can refine it slightly to get more accurate time. Knowing that the sun travels 15º westwards in one hour you can easily start marking hours and minutes.

Step 5: Reflector

Picture of Reflector

The solid back of watches are perfect reflectors to get attention of people far away, or passing aircraft.

Even if your watch back has a matte finish, it can likely still be used as a reflector. Try buffing the watch back with any cotton cloth to really shine it up, then point the watch back facing the sun and try and reflect the sunlight. Practice directing sunlight to somewhere nearby first to dial in your reflecting technique.

When you're ready, you can easily signal people very far away by flashing the reflector towards them to get their attention. If you're feeling really confident, you can even flash out Morse code and send a message!

Step 6: Hone a Knife

Picture of Hone a Knife

Many watches have a leather strap which not only makes for a comfortable fit, but also gives us a great material to make survival things from.

The leather strap can be used just like a strop to hone a blade. Fasten one end of the watch strap to secure it, then gently run the edge of your knife along the leather strap with the sharp edge trailing the stoke. Though the strap might be small, it'll still work to remove any burrs on the knife edge and bring back an edge to your knife.

Step 7: Make a Blade

Picture of Make a Blade

If you're a savvy in the outdoors, you probably already have a knife. But, in a survival situation you might need another blade for different uses: perhaps you want to preserve your good knife for things that need a refined and sharp edge, or maybe you lost your knife.

In survival situations you can use your watch to create a blade. Covering the glass front of the watch with a leaf, gently tap on the glass to fracture and create glass shards. You'll easily find a few pieces that are super sharp and can easily be made into a blade.

Use your glass shard to cut a long continuous strip of leather from your watch strap, this will be used to lash the glass shard to a handle. To make a handle find a a sturdy stick with an opening on one end, then insert the glass shard to it's seated securely in the opening and lash it tight with the leather strip.

While it's certainly not as sturdy as a real knife, this blade can easily cut fabric and flesh.

Do you have your own survival techniques with watches? How about everyday items? I want to see it!
Share a picture of your watch survival tip in the comments below and get a free Pro Membership to Instructables!


eitaknella18 (author)2016-02-18

Clever. I never enter the woods without my compass though.

BenjaminB98 (author)eitaknella182017-08-23

Yeah, but it's always good to have a spare :)

oscardelben (author)2016-02-08

Useful tips for everyone who loves adventure. I am really glad I found this information. What I love the most is how I can use my watch like a compass. Thanks for this good info.

samyuktha (author)2015-12-11


Seadaawg (author)2015-11-05

Where did you dream up the method of using the watch as a compass in step 1? It is totally incorrect. Depends on what time it is, first of all. A better method is to plant a pointed stick in the ground near true local noon time, and watch for the shortest shadow. The shadow will point north or south, depending on where you are, hemisphere-wise. And, as some others point out, the sun is generally east at sunrise, and generally west at sunset. The other steps are pretty cool.

ewbray (author)Seadaawg2015-12-04

Learned in survival & evasion course while in military {U.S. Army} flight school during Vietnam era; Northern Hemisphere - Place a stick at least four feet long in the ground, then place a stone or object at end of the 1st shadow, wait for a while and then place another stone or object at the end of the 2nd shadow, == the first stone is the western point, the second stone is the eastern point and the shadows are on the northern side of the stick! [stand with your left foot on the 1st stone & your right foot on the 2nd stone <> you are facing NORTH your back is towards the sun and SOUTH]

jlsajfj (author)Seadaawg2015-11-05

so your saying that youve tried and it doesnt work?

ecoenegryTY (author)jlsajfj2015-11-29

the reason you use the hour hand on the watchaccounts for the time of day it is not perfectly accurate but either. The reason neither one is accurate is because they are both based on the sun not the magnetic pull of our planet... but if you think a shadow from a stick and guessing when the shadow is shortest then by all means use the stick thing but it is based on the same physics....

Androgynous14u (author)2015-11-13

Nice. Simple & incredibly useful. I'm surprised Bear Grills never mentioned these on his show! Ingenious ideas.

JamesL32 (author)2015-11-05

Good reminders. Remember to : 1) NOT use daylight saving time (or make allowances), 2) keep watch wound and set correctly, 3) Read "Hatchet" by Gary Paulsen 4) Dig out the old (1952 edition is best) BSA Scout "Fieldbook", 5) Next time, dress for the weather and don't let your brother-in-law convince you he "knows where we are". See you on the trail!

lfaheyva (author)JamesL322015-11-08

Not taking into account Daylight Saving Time adds error- the Sun doesn't bear 'South' at noon during DST. For instance, in Washington DC in June the Sun bears ~131T at noon (12pm = 1200 DST = 1600 GMT) yet, following the logic of the watch-compass, looking at an hour hand at noon-- no separation, so no 'midway'-- the direction indicated should be 'South'. But it isn't 'South' because the Sun will be at Local Apparent Noon (bearing 180T) at 1:10pm DST (1710 GMT). So, if your watch is on Daylight Saving Time vice Standard Time, use the '1' instead of the '12' for more accuracy.

DavidM367 (author)JamesL322015-11-05

i like those books. good recommendations.

godson1952 (author)JamesL322015-11-05

good advice,But you some of us had grandfathers and fathers teach us how to live off the land and how eat well not just grubs and worms eech!!!!.

lfaheyva (author)2015-11-08

Do not forget that, if you are in Daylight Saving Time, to use '1' vice '12' for determination of direction.

Magzzee (author)2015-11-07

Excellent, tysm for sharing your expertize!

alter2000 (author)2015-11-07

DAMMIT. I keep using LCD watches, but all they are good for is portable maps and compasses (and telling time). How on earth am I going to make a compass out of a much smaller compass?

CricketS (author)2015-11-06

I'm really into survival stuff! This looks super cool!

rubensbelly (author)2015-11-05

step one smash watch

step two make a primitive sun dial

are you serious! I would love to be stranded with you

godson1952 (author)rubensbelly2015-11-05

if you want to learn how to survive in the wild just google everything on how to and the internet will tell you. ;)

flag1aa (author)godson19522015-11-06

I did not take my tablet with me out in to the woods.

mkctools (author)2015-11-06

A paracord watch band would be a big plus.

ronald.ferreira.39 (author)2015-11-06

if you dont have a stick look at the trees shadows.

bruce_t (author)2015-11-05

Sorry, but the Instructable author is correct. It actually works for the same reason your stick in the ground works. Give it a try and you'll see.

For example let's say it is 7AM. As you point out, the sun is rising approximately to the east. Point the hour hand at the sun. Halfway between the 7 and the 12 is 9:30, and the direction of 9:30 will be close to south.

Procyonkitty (author)2015-11-05

If the sun is shining there's no need to use a watch to tell direction: It rises in the east and sets in the west. Between west and east is north, and between east and west is south. And for a primitive sundial put a stick in the ground.

When you're out wandering and the sun is high in the sky, you have no clue where it rose from and where it will set. You *could* stay put for a day to figure it out, but that's not practical.

Well said

godson1952 (author)Procyonkitty2015-11-05

And also what about the moss on a tree or limbs ,also use the trees as sundial stick ;)

ndronet (author)godson19522015-11-05

Unless you're in a desert or at sea.

JamesL32 (author)godson19522015-11-05

Moss does grow on the north side of a tree. Also the east, west , and south side, depending on conditions....

ndronet (author)Procyonkitty2015-11-05

Only if you're at the equator.... otherwise it rises generally in the east. That generally could be the difference in find your way out and staying lost. If you need true north you need a compass.

Doing (author)2015-11-05

I don't normally wear a watch since they tend to die a quick death but this is a very good reason to wear one any way. Thanks.

HelenaTroy (author)2015-11-05

does using the watch to tell direction need adjustment for GMT or Summer Time or Daylight Saving, whatever it's called in various places?

Kuberkoos (author)2015-11-05

Or you can use your mobile to phone your mom. She will phone your dad, he will phone the authorities, and hey presto; a search party will be out looking for you in no time! ;-))

StoddardZR (author)Kuberkoos2015-11-05

You clearly missed the point of 'survival' circumstances.


ndronet (author)StoddardZR2015-11-05

I know right? But I guess all the "experts" *cough cough* have to get their opinions in.

Gjinja (author)StoddardZR2015-11-05

StoddardZR, you're forgetting, with today's youth "survival circumstances"' means stranded at the mall with a dead phone battery. Most of them wouldn't know how to start a fire in the forest with a Bic lighter. :/

godson1952 (author)Gjinja2015-11-05


kafkask (author)2015-11-05

Perfect thing to make out of a working watch: a sundial. Why tell time with complete accuracy?

ndronet (author)kafkask2015-11-05

I guess you missed the part about if your watch runs out of battery......

godson1952 (author)2015-11-05

ALWAYS remember that before heading out into the woods for camping hunting or just to get away,remember to tell someone or leave note to let them know that you wanted to leave.ALSO PREPARE FOR THE WORST FOR IT WILL NEVER HAPPEN.JUSST LIKE TAKING OFF GOING DOWN THE ROAD IN THE MIDDLE OF WINTER ( PREPARE PREPARE ) ….. ;)

HandiGirl (author)2015-11-05

Greetings: Trying to download your instructable......not working......something forgotten?

Rangemaster42 (author)2015-11-05

If you have a sharp object to pry the case lid off, you don't really need to sharpen the case. This instructable is really ridiculous.

firstscout (author)Rangemaster422015-11-05

Agreed, Also you can use a small stick held next to your watch face as your vertical for a compass why would you destroy your time piece

Deltic (author)2015-11-05

No need for a leather strap to hone your knife blade; the palm of your hand will do nicely!

posteljooni (author)2015-11-05

You can use a mechanical watch as a handy curvimeter for a paper map!

wobbler (author)2015-11-05

Regarding using the clock as a sundial, you don't need to mark out the face. The sun travels 15deg in an hour, a watch hand goes 30degrees so every sundial hour shown on the clock face is worth two real hours. After noon, you have to double the time pointed to, so if it points to 2pm it's 4pm. Before noon you have to subtract twice as much from noon. So, if the clock face shows 9:30am, it's 7am. Hope that makes sense.

Think_Design_Build (author)2015-11-04

I have a few contributions to your great ideas:

You could use the metal button that fastens the strap as a sinker or lure for fishing

The pins on the case can often be removed and used for a variety of applications such as needles, arrowheads or gorge hooks

The o-ring that seals the back can be used as a rubber band or cut and used to fasten things

I know this doesn't apply to your watch, but if you have a nylon or stitched strap you could unravel the threads/stitching for string or fishing line

Overall great instructable that taught me some new things, Well done!

Those are some great ideas, thanks for sharing!

ErnestT4 (author)2015-11-03

I learned this in Boy Scouts and then was taught it again in the Army. But it's good information. There is another step to this trick which seems to be logical but a rookie might not understand. Once you determine where North or South is you can then determine where East and West are also. You also need to know where you are in relation to the direction. It helps a lot if you have a map that you can orient to North and then orient the map to the ground where you are by identifying features on the ground and on the map.

mikeasaurus (author)ErnestT42015-11-03

Good additions!

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