Find North Without a Compass: Sun, Stick and Stars, Watch

Sometimes, knowing which direction you are traveling is what will decide if you live or die.  Today’s post is giving you every single way I can think of finding my bearings in a survival situation.  If we hope to one day be a true Clever Survivalist, we will have to learn what we can about wilderness survival as well.  So here it goes…

Using a GPS:

I really like my Garmin Dakota 20.  This like many GPSs tell you your location, direction of travel, distance traveled, elevation, barometric pressure (for storm watching), and can plot your traveling history, which can be used to get back to where you started.  A lot of them have compasses on them.  These are probably the most precise way to navigate, but come at the disadvantage of all electronics… batteries.  Due to this, you should have many backups for navigation.

A lot of cell phones have them now and can be used as well, although, not quite as accurate as a field GPS.

Using a Compass:

A compass points to Magnetic North, not True North.  And the degree of error between the compass and true North changes based on your location.  One degree of error, could get you almost half a mile, or around 300 meters, off during navigation.  Learning to use a map (which I want to do a video on) will be your biggest advantage when using a compass, because you can determine the direction of travel, based on “map north” and known visual markers.  But if you know your angle of error, you can move the Bezel ring to mark True North on your compass.  Look for my video to come soon on this.

Using the North Star:

Now we learn how to find north without a compass.  Let’s start with the North Star.  To find the North Star (which, if you will notice, is the last star in the handle of the Little Dipper) you can use the Big Dipper to point to it.  Just draw an imaginary line from the two stars at the base of the bowl of the Big Dipper.  This line will point almost directly to Polaris (North Star).  The M or W shape of Cassiopeia points toward it as well, although the precision is not nearly as good as the Big Dipper.  I just use Cassiopeia to find the Little Dipper (which I know Polaris is the end of the handle) when the Big Dipper is below the horizon due to Earth’s Rotation.

Using the Southern Cross:

I don’t have extensive knowledge in the Southern Cross method of finding South, since I don’t live in the Southern Hemisphere, but I needed to add this for the guys “below the belt.”  If you use the longest part of the Southern Cross, to point across the sky.  Then look for the two pointer stars that follow behind the Southern Cross in the sky.  Draw a line that is perpendicular to the line intersecting both stars.  Where the Pointer Star Line intersects the Southern Cross line is South.  North is the other way.

Using a Dial Watch in Northern Hemisphere:

You must have an analog (dial style watch) that has accurate time for your time zone for this trick to work.  You point the hour hand of the watch to the sun.  Imagine a line from the sun to the center of the dial, and another line from 12 to the dial center.  Half-way between these two lines is an imaginary line that will tell you North and South.  The angle between these two points is South.  If in daylight savings time, you must pretend that the hour hand is 1 hour further back (so if it is 7 pm, pretend that the hour hand is at 6 pm.)  Another way to compensate for daylight savings is to use 1 o’clock instead of the 12 o’clock position.  Either substitute will work.

Using a Dial Watch in Southern Hemisphere:

In the Southern Hemisphere, you will place the sun at the 12 o’clock position and the imaginary line is between the hour hand and 12.  This line will point North.

Using a Stick’s shadow on a Sunny Day:

A lot like the watch method  the two-sticks method is based on angles of the sun with respect to Earth.  It is actually pretty easy to do on a sunny day.  Place a stick or straw in the ground, so you can see the shadow.  Mark where the tip of the shadow is (mark one) which will be the west marker for your compass.  Then you will wait 15 minutes and mark the shadow tip again (mark two) which will be the east marker for your compass.  If you draw a line between the markers, this is your east-west line.  A perpendicular line (at 90 degrees of east-west) will be the north-south line.  If you look at the markers so that the west marker is on your left and the east marker is on your right, you are looking North.  South is the other way.  If you can remember Never Eat Shredded Wheat or Never Eat Soggy Waffles, you can remember North, East, South, West in that order.  You could just Google “Never Eat Shredded Wheat” and you can find it.Northern Hemisphere: Stick Method for How to find North without a compass (photo from

Using the Crescent Moon to Point the Way:

There are two ways to use the moon for direction that I know of.  One is in the photo below.  If you connect the tips of the crescent moon and extend this imaginary line you will find South (if in the north) and North (if in the south) where it intersects the horizon.  If the moon is close to either the east or west, I feel that it is more accurate to pretend the line connecting the tips together is a bow-string, and perpendicular to that is an arrow pointing East if well after midnight, or pointing West if well before midnight.

Northern Hemisphere, finding South from Moon. In Southern Hemisphere, you will find North this way.

Compass from Needle on a Leaf:

You can magnetize a needle with a magnet to make it act like a compass needle.  You can also do the same thing with a straightened paperclip.  You can stroke a magnet from the eye to the tip of the needle.  You will have to do this 10-20 times.  If you have no magnet, you can stroke the needle with silk or wool from 50 to 100 times to get it to magnetize.  Once the needle is magnetized, you can float it on a leaf or piece or cork in water, or hang it from a piece of thread (as long as it is hung level with the ground and there is no wind).  It should re-position itself to magnetic north.

Orion’s Belt:

Orion’s Belt runs east and west, and the sword that hangs down from Orion’s belt points South.

The Movement of any star:

All stars will move, just like the Sun, from East to West.  This is a result of the Earth Spinning on its axis.  So, if we can use the Sun, it stands to reason that we can use any celestial body (i.e. star).  Start by placing a long stick in the ground.  Then you will grab a shorter stick.  With your eye, line up the long stick with a star that you can easily identify.  Then, with your eye in the same spot, line the top of the shorter stick with the top of the longer stick within your line of sight.  Now the tips of both sticks should be lined up with the star.  Wait 15 or 30 minutes and come back to the same spot where the two stick tops line up (this is lining up you to the exact same vantage point, so you don’t have to guess.)  The star will no longer be lined up with the sticks.  It will have moved westward.  If the star has moved up, then you are looking East.  If it moved down, you are looking West.  If it moved Left, you are looking North.  If it moved Right, you are looking South.  It will probably move up and right, or down and right, so you can approximate direction such as SouthEast or SouthWest.  You can also try to rearrange the sticks for a better line up, so you can be more precise, but it will take more time.

Using Stars. Your eye is at the bottom of the arrow and the arrow is pointing in the direction you are looking.

Don’t trust your life to Moss, Tree branches, Melting Snow, or Anthills since they aren’t always too accurate.