Find North With a Stick

If you need to approximate your bearings, there are several ways to do so without a compass. One of the easiest and most accurate uses only a stick and the sun’s shadow.

The sun traverses the sky from East to West; throughout the day, the sun’s shadow moves from West to East.

  1. Place a stick in the ground.
  2. Place a stone or other mark at the tip of the shadow. This indicates West.
  3. Wait 15 minutes or so for the shadow to move.
  4. Place another mark at the tip of the shadow. This indicates East.
  5. Draw a line between the marks. This line approximates East and West.
  6. Stand with West on your left and East on your right — you’re facing North. South is behind you.
  7. This method works in either hemisphere without modification because the sun’s shadow always travels West to East.


I placed a stick in the ground at 2:30 and marked the tip of the shadow with a stone. At 3:00 the shadow had moved East and I marked it again. The line between the stones approximates the East/West line.

This method is more or less accurate depending on time of day, time of year, how carefully you mark the shadow tips and draw the line, and so on. You shouldn’t plan a moonshot with it, but it’s good enough to get a general sense of direction without waiting for sundown to indicate West.


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