Orienteer without a Compass

Finding your Direction

I’d like to write about a technique for finding your direction without the use of a compass or an electronic device like a smartphone. It’s a common practice for people on tech scouts to pull out their iPhones and use an App to tell which direction the sun is going to set but if you have an analog watch the process is quite simple and usually faster than calling up the App. If you have a digital watch you can accomplish the same task but you’ll probably want to draw a watch face on the ground and follow the same principals. This is a technique I’ve used many times when hiking because sometimes even if you have a compass you will second guess it. There have been many times where you get turned around and you will swear your compass is wrong. For this reason many people will carry two compasses so they can verify that their compass is indeed still working. But if you understand the principals outlined below it’s a great way of finding direction even if you don’t have a compass. 

Here’s what you do: 

Orient your body so you face the direction of the sun and using a finger I create a shadow which bisects the hour hand and the 12. The picture below shows it is 9am. When you do this the 3 will point West (the direction the sun sets), the 12 will point South, the 9 will point East and the 6 will point North. That’s it.
Using this principal to the picture below we can see it is 5:30pm, by bisecting the 5 and the 12 the 3 points West. During the height of Summer the sun will set a little closer to the 4 and in the height of the winter it will set a little closer to the 2.
Okay, now the only tricky part is if the previous clock were at 5:30am. In this case you need to under stand that the sun will be ahead of your hour hand like the following example:
Here’s the thing about that tricky part, if it’s 5:30am and the sun is coming up you should know that’s East anyway so it’s a moot point but I wanted to at least cover the weak link in the system. 
If you have a digital watch apply the principal by drawing a circle in the ground and then use a stick to hammer into the ground creating a shadow which runs through the middle of the circle. Use the time on your watch to then draw out out the hands of the watch like an analog watch. Just make sure you orient the numbers so the shadow bisects the hour hand and the 12.

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One comment

  1. Pingback: Skill Sets | 72 Hour Bag • • • - - - • • •

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