Finding True North Without a Compass

Posted: April 2, 2012 in Wilderness Survival
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These are a few methods for Finding North without a compass. BE AWARE THAT THERE ARE SOME DRAWBACKS AND MAY NOT WORK WHERE YOU LIVE! SO READ THE NOTES BELOW EACH SECTION!

GREAT NORTHERN PREPPER OUT!

The Shadow-Tip Method

The Shadow-tip method

Place a stick upright in the ground so that you can see its shadow. Alternatively, you can use the shadow of a fixed object. Nearly any object will work, but the taller the object is, the easier it will be to see the movement of its shadow, and the narrower the tip of the object is, the more accurate the reading will be. Make sure the shadow is cast on a level, brush-free spot.

2.

Mark the tip of the shadow with an object

Mark the tip of the shadow with a small object, such as a pebble, or a distinct scratch in the ground. Try to make the mark as small as possible so as to pinpoint the shadow’s tip, but make sure you can identify the mark later.

3.

Wait 10-15 minutes. The shadow tip will move mostly from west to east in a curved line.

4.

Mark the new position of the shadow’s end

Mark the new position of the shadow’s tip with another small object or scratch. It will likely move only a short distance.

5.

Draw a straight line in the ground between the two marks.

Draw a straight line in the ground between the two marks. This is an approximate east-west line.

6.

Stand with the first mark (west) on your left, and the other (east) on your right.

Stand with the first mark (west) on your left, and the other (east) on your right. You are now facing mostly toward true north, regardless of where you are in the world. The illustration shows that the sun and marker at Points 1 is what is happening for Step 2. At Points 2, it shows what is happening for Step 4. This method is based on the fact that the sun moves across the sky from East to West.

NOTE:  THIS IS NOT FOR USE IN ALASKA ABOVE ABOVE THE CENTRAL KENAI PENINSULA (ANYWHERE ABOVE 60 degrees North Latitude) I included it for readers in the south and those that may live Southeast Alaska or Canada

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WATCH METHOD (FOR NORTHERN HEMISPHERE)

1.

Find an analog watch (the kind with hour and minute hands) that is set accurately. Place it on a level surface, such as the ground, or hold it horizontal in your hand.

2.

Point the hour hand at the sun.

3.

Bisect (that is, find the center point of) the angle between the hour hand and the twelve o’clock mark (the number 12 on the watch). The center of the angle between the hour hand and twelve o’clock mark is the north-south line. If you don’t know which way is north and which south, just remember that no matter where you are, the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. In the northern hemisphere the sun is due south at midday. If your watch is set to daylight saving time bisect the angle between the hour hand and the one o’clock mark instead

NOTES:

  • If you only have a digital watch, you can still aim the watch accurately at the sun, as you figure out where the hour hand will be. Use 12, 3, 6 and 9 o clock’s angles to guide you to the other hours, smaller increments for half/quarter hours.
  • If you have a 24h dial on your clock (like many pilot watches), then just point the hour hand at the sun, and north is at the 0/24h mark.
  • These methods may require practice to perfect, so it’s a good idea to try them a couple times when you can check your readings. That way, you’ll be able to rely on them if you’re in a survival situation.
  • The watch method is not recommended in lower latitudes, particularly below 20° in either hemisphere.

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USING THE STARS (NORTHERN HEMISPHERE)

1.

Locate the North Star (Polaris) in the night sky. The North Star is the last star in the handle of the Little Dipper constellation. If you have trouble finding it, find the Big Dipper. The two lowest stars in the Big Dipper (the outermost stars of the cup of the dipper) form a straight line that “points” to the North Star. You may also find the constellation Cassiopeia, which is always opposite the Big Dipper. The North Star is located about midway between the central star of Cassiopeia and the Big Dipper (see figure).

2.

Draw an imaginary line straight down from the North Star to the ground. This direction is true north, and if you can find a landmark in the distance at this point, you can use it to guide yourself.

NOTE:

  • When trying to locate the North Star it is important to remember that, despite popular belief, the North Star is NOT the brightest star in the sky. The only remarkable thing about it is that it is the only star in the sky that does not move.
  • The North Star becomes higher in the sky the further north you travel, and it is not useful about 70° N latitude.
Comments
  1. [...] Finding True North Without a Compass.  Why this post:  Because as most of you know I teach wilderness survival and it’s always nice to know where north is if you get lost. [...]

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