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How to find North without a Compass

Updated on August 30, 2013

This complete step-by-step photo tutorial demonstrates a simple way to find North

If you are out camping or have gone hiking or mountainbiking, it is easy to get turned around if you aren't carrying a compass. If you can't navigate, it's all too easy to get disoriented or even completely lost.

In this lens I have taken on one of Flycatcher's questions from the "How To...How Do" quest: How do you find North without a compass?

Okay, first face South. Then turn 180 degrees and you'll be facing North!

Simple, huh? Well, no, it's never quite that easy. So let's see how it's really done.

Image Credit: © Frances: Ordinary Woman Press P/L

Find North Using Shadows

How sunlight, a stick and two markers can help you find north

One of the simplest ways to find determine directions without a compass involves using the suns's shadow to work out the line from east to west.

The first thing you need to remember is that if you face east and raise your hands out from your sides in the shape of a cross, your left hand will be pointing north. Always.

This is true no matter which hemisphere you are in, and no matter what time of day.

So that's the rule to remember: If you face east, your back is always to the west, south is always to your right and north is always to your left.

For the complete step-by-step photographic tutorial, just scroll down.

Where did I learn how to find north without a compass? - The Survival Bible - The SAS Survival Handbook

Available in hardback, paperback or Kindle version, this is THE survival guide. There's even an Android app, and to make it easy for you the link for that is a just a bit further down the page.

The author, John 'Lofty' Wiseman, is a former SAS soldier and was the SAS' Chief Survival Instructor. SAS stands for "Special Air Service" - it is the elite British forces squad which carries out operations all around the world in any terrain - from desert to arctic, jungle to city. US Navy Seals are trained using the principles that have been developed and refined by the SAS since the 1950's.

What they don't know about survival isn't worth knowing, and this book is written by the guy whose job was to teach them everything they know. You can't get much better than that when it comes to expert authors.

SAS Survival Handbook, Revised Edition: For Any Climate, in Any Situation
SAS Survival Handbook, Revised Edition: For Any Climate, in Any Situation

Don't mess around. Just get it. Keep this version, the paperback copy, in your car.

A little further down I have the link for the Android App which has extra video and photo content. Load it up so you have it when you need it. Or put the Kindle Reading App on your phone or tablet and upload the Kindle version, which is also featured below.

This isn't just for survivalists or preppers. It assumes no prior knowledge, and it has down to earth, clear instructions for things like setting up a campsite and emergency first aid.

And of course, the book has plenty of other ways to navigate without a compass, whether it's daylight, at night or when the sun is obscured by fog or cloud.


The How To: Find a Shadow Marker

Image Credit: © Frances: Ordinary Woman Press P/L

Find a straight stick and push it into the ground.

Mark the point where the stick's shadow ends. I have used a piece of paper and a pen to give clarity in the photos, but in real life you can use a distinctive pebble or scratch an X into the spot where the shadow ends.

Track the Shadow

Image Credit: © Frances: Ordinary Woman Press P/L

As you can see, the shadow moves from the marked point towards the east.

When the sun has travelled further across the sky, you once again mark where the stick's shadow ends.

You need to allow at least fifteen minutes to give you enough space between your measuring points.

How to find the line running East-West

Image Credit: © Frances: Ordinary Woman Press P/L

By marking a starting point and an end point for the shadow, you will get your east to west directional line.

15 minutes after you mark the starting point of the shadow, and keeping the first marker in place, mark the shadow's end again.

Then draw a line connecting the two marks.

This is your east to west line, the line of longitude.

Use your East-West line to find North

Image Credit: © Frances: Ordinary Woman Press P/L

Draw a line directly crossing your East to West longitudinal line.

With this line, you now have your four compass points.

And North is that-a-way!

Image Credit: © Frances: Ordinary Woman Press P/L

And there you go! As I mentioned in the beginning, if you face East, North is to your left, and South is to your right.

Research other techniques for finding your way without a compass - Never get lost again, using the moon, stars, weathering on objects, compass plants and more!

If you know what you are looking for, there are a number of simple techniques for finding your directions. Whether you are in a remote place camping, skiing, or in the urban jungle navigating a new city, you can find your direction in a variety of ways.

SAS Survival Guide 2E (Collins Gem): For any climate, for any situation
SAS Survival Guide 2E (Collins Gem): For any climate, for any situation

This is the pocket version of the SAS Survival Guide, and it's perfect to keep in a backpack.

SAS Survival Guide
SAS Survival Guide

Instantly available for your Android device, this has the complete book as well as 16 survival tips videos by the author, photo galleries, survival checklists and much more.

The Mammoth Book of Boys' Own Stuff (Mammoth Books)
The Mammoth Book of Boys' Own Stuff (Mammoth Books)

This is one of my son's books and it has very clear illustrations and instructions, plus lots of other things that make it a brilliant resource for boys. It has the navigation technique featured in this lens, and quite a few more.

The Dangerous Book for Boys
The Dangerous Book for Boys

Like Boy's Own Stuff, this is a great book for boys aged from about 9 years to mid teens. It has the navigation content in it as well. This one is a brilliant gift.


How to make the most of your next family camping trip

Camping with the family brings to mind cosy campfires, creating wonderful memories together and enjoying nature. But to make it work, you need a plan.

You don't have to do it all yourself. The SAS Survival Guide is a great book for learning your survival basics, but for easy family camping, I have a fantastic MP3 Audio and PDF file you can download immediately right here, and it covers all the things you need to consider to make your next family camping trip safe, fun and absolutely awesome.

In addition to sensible, practical advice about everything from food safety to how to set up your campsite, and with lots of extra info like how to tailor hikes to suit kids of all ages, and activities to keep kids happy and active without taking their weight in electronic toys along, you'll find "How to Survive and Love Your Family Camping Trip" will make your next trip memorable for all the right reasons.

Make it Easy for Yourself - Carry a Compass and Know Where You Are - If you carry a lightweight compass, you will find North every time, without a doubt

Whether you are hiking, camping or learning your way around a new city, the easiest way to orientate yourself is to carry a lightweight compass. It doesn't need to be fancy, it just needs to point you in the right direction.

Each one of these compasses is under $20.

Neewer Outdoor Camping Hiking Portable Brass Pocket Golden Compass
Neewer Outdoor Camping Hiking Portable Brass Pocket Golden Compass

Classic pocket watch style, and just a little bit steampunk for something different

Forecaster 610 Compass and Thermometer
Forecaster 610 Compass and Thermometer

Clip the Forecaster on a backpack, and you'll have your navigation headings and your temperature readings all in one.

Mini Thermometer and Compass Key Chain Zipper Pull
Mini Thermometer and Compass Key Chain Zipper Pull

Small, lightweight and ideal to clip on a jacket or backpack zipper


Could you find North using this method?

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    • FrancesWrites profile image

      FrancesWrites 4 years ago

      @CampingmanNW: That's a good technique! Thanks for stopping by and sharing :)

    • CampingmanNW profile image

      CampingmanNW 4 years ago

      That is an excellent way to determine north if it is a sunny day or one can see the sun. At night, I use two sticks. One tall and one short. I drive them both in the ground and lie on my stomach behind them and line up on a bright star. If the star moves to the left in a few minutes time, I am facing north. If it goes up, I am facing east and so forth. It never fails. But the one thing that always works? As you say, a compass. Thanks for a fun lens.

    • profile image

      tonyleather 4 years ago

      What a very useful lens! Thanks so much!

    • HappyTom LM profile image

      Tom Christen 4 years ago from Switzerland/Ecuador

      @Namsak: And when your wife is not with you? Then you have a real problem I think :D

    • profile image

      Namsak 4 years ago

      Interesting lens but I live in Scotland where it can be overcast, dull and rainy for several days in a row so how do I find north without the sun? Easy! Like Steve Kaye I would ask my wife - she seems to know everything!

    • SavioC profile image

      SavioC 4 years ago

      Wow. Excellent idea to find north or any side for that matter. Learnt something very useful. The things Squidoo has taught me. Cheers.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      cool! there was a time I thought always carry a magnet and a cork...

    • clevergirlname profile image

      clevergirlname 4 years ago

      Wow! Nice educational lens on finding north!

    • pshinde2109 lm profile image

      pshinde2109 lm 4 years ago

      very useful...

    • profile image

      prakash-mishra-9212 4 years ago

      great lens

    • BritFlorida profile image

      Jackie Jackson 4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      I think you would have chuckled if you could have seen me a few minutes ago testing this outwith a pencil for a stick and a pendant light being the sun! Love this!

    • erickaregy profile image

      erickaregy 4 years ago

      Coooll.. learning from the nature! thank you for sharing this informative lens

      just imagine how to make west - east line.. I thought it directly from the shadow to the end point :)

    • Arod17 profile image

      Arod17 4 years ago

      This is such great information thanks for sharing!!!

    • profile image

      SteveKaye 4 years ago

      I'd just ask my wife. (And yes, this is a great idea. Thank you for publishing this lens.)

    • junkcat profile image

      junkcat 4 years ago

      Good information, thanks for the advice.

    • profile image

      ToolNut 4 years ago

      I think this is something that everyone should know, and now I know. Thanks for sharing.

    • WriterJanis2 profile image

      WriterJanis2 4 years ago

      I didn't know about this. Thanks. I have always relied on a compass.

    • iwrite100 profile image

      Maribel Forayo 4 years ago from Philippines

      Wow! That's a practical way of finding where to head to when lost in a forest.

    • FrancesWrites profile image

      FrancesWrites 4 years ago

      @takkhisa: I'd love to hear how it works for you :)

    • takkhisa profile image

      Takkhis 4 years ago

      That's great! Thanks for writing this lens and I would try this tomorrow :)