How to find the North without a compass

Compass rose
Compass rose

Using a stick, sun, stars or even a watch

So you are lost in the wilderness and need to find your way to civilisation, you have no compass and no map, but you know what direction to go? Then you can use one of the following methods to find your direction.


First, a small introduction to the compass rose:

"A compass rose is a figure on a map or nautical chart used to display the orientation of the cardinal directions, — north, south, east, and west. It is also the term for the graduated markings found on the traditional magnetic compass." - as said by Wikipedia.

So this figure can help find you all directions, if you already know at least one direction, in this case, the North. In a compass you can usually find a compass rose and of course, the North. From that you can discover, the East, West, South and so on.

But, what if you don't have a compass with, what do you do?


This method is one of the most accurate, and you should need:

  • a clear sky;
  • some patience as it's going to take some time;
  • a 1 meter tall stick or pole, anything that has a straight line (in a manner of speaking);
  • 2 small stones or sticks;
  • another stick or stone with a sharp end;
  • a small rope or string.

To do this its best in the morning, before noon. Fix the 1 meter tall stick or pole on the ground vertically, the terrain surrounding should be flat or horizontal. Now you can put one of the sticks or stones exactly on the end of the shadow caused by the tall stick. Now tie the rope/string on the lower end of the tall stick and tie on the other end the sharp stick/stone in a way that when the string is stretched it reaches exactly the other stick/stone you put at the end of the shadow of the pole. Then you use the string to draw a semi-circle with the sharp stone/stick.

Then wait, until afternoon. During the day, the shadow it's going to diminish progressively until noon, it becomes in its smallest size, then it grows again. At noon, mark its position. The shadow will point directly to the North, but it's not easy to see when this happens. So we will need to wait until the shadow reaches your circle again, then mark this point with the other stone/stick.

Now, the line from the first stick/stone to the second it's the line East-West. You can mark more points, because any 2 marks that have the exact same distance to the tall stick/pole represent the line East-West.

1st step
1st step
2nd step
2nd step

Using the Polaris star

 Now, if it's nighttime, you can use another method to find North. Stop in a place where you can see the sky clearly and without near light sources. If you are in the Northern Hemisphere, you will find a star that almost always it's directly pointing to the North, the Polaris. You can find it easily if you know the constelation Big Dipper, just take the 2 stars at the end of the constelation, make an imaginary line going up about 5 times the distance between the 2 stars, and there is it - Polaris. That direction is North, but if you are in the Southern Hemisphere, you will have to use the Southern Cross constelation.

Using an analog watch

 If you've got a wrist watch with pointers (analog), you can use time itself to find the North, providing that it's daytime. Keep you watch in front of you, and make the shorthand (that indicates the hours) point directly to the sun. Keeping in this position, divide by 2 the angle made between the 12 o'clock and the short hand, and the result its the direction South. And the opposite direction, of course it's North. If you have a digital watch, you can do the same method, just draw a clock, and the hands of hours and minutes according to the time on the digital watch.

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Comments 1 comment

tc 5 years ago

Awesome! Thank you so much!

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