When you’re out in the wilderness, it’s all about preparing as if anything can happen. Sure you brought along a compass, GPS and a map, but let’s suppose everything got washed down stream or a bear ransacked your camp when you walked off to use the bathroom. Now what?
Even without a compass, it can be easy to reorient yourself and find your way home as long as you possess some simple skills to figure out your direction. Here are four ways to find north without using a compass.
Using a wrist-watch is perhaps the simplest method, but might not be the most accurate and you need a wrist-watch with hour and minute hands, which these days are pretty rare. In the northern hemisphere hold the watch perpendicular to the ground and point the hour hand toward the sun. Now imagine a line that bisects between the hour hand and 12 o’clock and this is the north-south line. To orient yourself further consider where the sun rises and falls to find east and west. In the southern hemisphere, just point the 12 o’clock line at the sun and bisect from the hour hand.
Shadow tip method
Using the shadow tip method is one of the most accurate ways to determine your direction, but it does depend on there being sunlight. Simply take a small stick about a foot or two in length and drive it into the ground. Mark the end of the shadow with a pebble. Wait 10 to 15 minutes and mark the end of the shadow again. Now draw a line between these two points and this is your east-west axis.
The celestial method is one that requires a clear night and darkness of course. If you can find the North Star, you can determine your general course of travel. The North Star or Polaris is the single star in the universe that never moves. Everything else mysteriously orbits around it. To find the North Star locate the big dipper. Now imagine a line from the base to the tip of the scoop and that line leads to the brightest star out there, which is the north star. In the southern hemisphere, if you can locate the Southern Cross, the long side points down toward the South Pole. Orion’s belt is another indicator in the sky as it lies along the equator and sets on an east-west projection.
The needle method is the last way to determine north without a compass that is independent of weather or time of day. To perform the need method, you’ll need a magnetized sewing needle and a cork or piece of string. You can magnetize the needle either with a magnet by stroking the needle in one direction or by simply rubbing the needle, again in the same direction, over a piece of fabric. In this case, the fabric generates static electricity, which charges the needle. Next, either float the needle with the cork or hang it loosely from a string being sure not to let it swing in the wind. Now the needle will point either north or south. It’s your job to figure it out from there.