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Finding North with Stick-and-Shadow November 23, 2009

Posted by General Zod in Survival.

Let’s pretend for a moment, that you’re lost in the wild.  You have a vague idea of where you might be.  Heck, you might even have a map.  Just for the sake of this example, let’s say that you know that you need to go north to find your way "home".  Sounds simple… but you’ve managed to lose your compass.  You’re all turned around with the sun is high in the sky… and you have absolutely no idea which direction to go.

You’ve probably all seen some movie in which the hero notes that there is moss growing on one side of a tree or contemplates his wrist watch while referencing the current position of the sun, and quickly determines which direction is north.  The moss method isn’t reliable.  Also, the watch method has a number of rules to remember involving which north/south hemisphere you are in and whether or not you’re using day-light savings time.  So let’s not make this any more confusing that it has to be.  Let’s keep it simple.

In a situation like this, you want to be able to find your way reliably.  The following straightforward method is the simplest technique that I know of.

To find north:

You will need… a fairly straight stick about a meter in length, 2 stones, and a level piece of ground that’s free of brush where the stick can cast a distinctive shadow.

Place the stick in the ground so it stands erect.  Make note of the shadow that the stick casts.  Mark the location of the shadow’s tip with one of your stones.  (This stone will represent West.)

stick_and_shadowNow, go find something to occupy your time for a while.  (It’ll take a MINIMUM of 15 minutes to get any kind of results that will be helpful to you; however, an hour would be better.)  So go get something done.  Go find water, cook a meal, answer the call of nature or find a way to construct some sort of rudimentary lathe.  (What?!  MacGyver is not my patron saint for nothing.)

After the time has passed (it doesn’t have to be exact), mark the shadow’s tip again with the second stone (which will represent East).  Draw an approximate east-west line between the two stones.

Stand in front of the line with the first stone on your left and the second stone on your right.

Congratulations.  You are now facing North.

This method will work EVERYWHERE on Earth.



1. Julie - November 21, 2015

I’ll be trying this out soon! I’ve heard of this method but haven’t seen it put so simply before, thank you.

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