Five Ways to Find North Without a Compass

Of course, it is easier to navigate with a compass, but it pays to know how to orient yourself without one. One of the best around is the Suunto MC-2G Mirror Sighting Global Compass. It has a declination adjustment system, which is useful in areas of large magnetic variation. But even a small button compass is useful — I keep one in my survival kit.

When examining a used compass, if it’s a liquid-filled type, make sure the bubble (if any) is small, indicating that it hasn’t leaked out.

But if you have no compass, you can still orient yourself in a general way. These rules apply in the Northern Hemisphere.

  1. Find the North Star.
    1. Identify the Big Dipper.
    2. Identify the two stars at the “pouring end” of the ladle.
    3. Mark the distance between them.
    4. Draw a line between the two stars at the pouring end of the ladle and extend it 5 times — you’ll find Polaris at the end of that line. Polaris is the tip of the Little Dipper’s handle.
  2. Track the Sun With a Stick. This method is most accurate around noon.
    1. Plant a stick vertically in the ground.
    2. Place a mark at the tip of its shadow.
    3. A half-hour later, place another mark at the tip of the shadow.
    4. A line drawn between the marks points approximately East and West.
  3. Use the Crescent Moon. This method is most accurate when the moon is at its highest point in the sky.
    1. Draw a line between the horns of the crescent.
    2. Extend that line down to the horizon — where it touches the ground is approximately South.
  4. Moss on Trees. This method is most accurate in drier microclimates. Moss will grow on rocks and tree trunks that do not receive much sun; this will tend to occur on the North side of those objects.
  5. Drier Hillsides Face South. This method works well in dry mountainous regions. North-facing slopes get the least sun and have more water-loving vegetation. South-facing slopes will have less vegetation, or more drought-tolerant vegetation like cacti.
Remember: Practice makes perfect!


5 thoughts on “Five Ways to Find North Without a Compass”

  1. Thanks for this informative link. Doomsday or Not…your site is really helpful for any type of emergency survival situations. keep going.
    Waiting for the movie as well. Good Luck.

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  4. Appreciate sharing. I would like to suggest not using miss or dry hills to locate North. I’ve experimented with this in my hikes and disagree. The best foolproof way is to use a compass!

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