Navigating Without a Compass - Part 3

Navigating Without a Compass - Part 3


Shadow Stick Tip Method - Illustration by Brian Green This is the third post in my three-part series on navigating without a compass. In part one I described how you can use easily identifiable constellations to locate the north star, Polaris. In part two I showed how you can use an analog watch and the sun to quickly determine North and South. In this third part I will explain how to use the Shadow Stick Tip method to get a reasonably accurate reading of compass direction.

The sun always rises in the east and sets in the west, but not exactly due east or due west. In the northern hemisphere, the sun will be due south when at its highest point in the sky, or when an object casts no discernible shadow. In the southern hemisphere, this same noonday sun will mark due north. In the northern hemisphere, shadows will move clockwise. Shadows will move counterclockwise in the southern hemisphere. With practice, you can use shadows to determine both direction and time of day.

Shadow-Tip Method Find a straight stick about three feet long. Look for a level spot on the ground that is free of brush and debris where it will cast a distinctive shadow. Place the stick or branch upright into the ground. Mark the shadow's upper most tip with a small stone, twig, or other means - I am using a small stick in this example. This first shadow mark is always west - everywhere on earth.

Wait for approximately 10 to 15 minutes until the shadow tip moves a few inches. Mark the shadow tip's new position in the same way as the first, you can see my second small stick.

Use your straight stick or, if possible, draw a straight line through the two marks to obtain an approximate east-west directional line. Now stand with the first mark (west) to your left foot and the second mark to your right foot and you will be facing in a northerly direction.

To test this, I placed my pocket compass in the direction I was standing to confirm that I was indeed facing north - as indicated by the red arrow on my compass. I should note that a compass gives a reading of magnetic north whereas this shadow stick method provides a reading of true north because it uses the sun. Even with that said, this technique provides a reliable and accurate method for quickly determining your direction with nothing more than the things laying around on the floor.

Do you use any other methods to navigate without the use of the compass?

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