How to Find True North Without a Compass

Find True North Without a Compass have many ways to figure out which direction is true north during the day time and at night. By using the sun, shadows, and the stars, you won’t have any trouble finding true north and heading in the right direction.

Method1: Find True North By Using the Shadow-Stick Method During the Day

1. Find a straight stick that is 2 feet (0.61 m) long.

If you’re in a wilderness situation, there are likely branches all around you. A straight stick at least 2 feet (0.61 m) long will cast a clean, visible shadow so you can find your direction. Generally the longer the stick, the longer the shadow will be. This helps make the shadow more visible. 

  • The thickness of the stick can vary, but something around 0.5 inches (1.3 cm) should work in most situations. If the sky is overcast, a thicker stick can help cast a more visible shadow.

Note: This method requires a straight stick. If you use a curved or crooked stick, your directions will be off because the shadow won’t be straight.

2. Poke the stick into flat, clean ground.

Insert the stick so it’s standing straight up. If the ground is hard, poke a hole with a knife or other tool you may have. Notice how the stick casts a shadow—that’s the shadow you’ll use to find your direction.

3. Put a rock at the end of the shadow.

This rock marks the shadow’s original location. Mark the original location because as the sun moves across the sky, the shadow will move too.

  • Since the sun moves across the sky east to west, it’s casting a shadow on the opposite side. This means that the shadow’s original location is your western-most point.


4. Find True North to Wait 20 minutes.

This allows enough time for the sun to move across the sky. If the shadow hasn’t visibly moved enough after 20 minutes, wait another 10.

  • If you have no way to keep time, then just keep an eye on the shadow. When you see that it’s moved, you can mark the new location and proceed.


5. Mark the shadow’s new location.

As the sun moves, the shadow will move east. Put either a rock or stick at the end of the shadow to mark it’s new location.

  • Remember, use something that won’t blow away. If you lose both shadow locations, you’ll have to start over.


6. Draw a straight line between the rocks.

Since the sun is moving west across the sky, the shadow’s new location will be further east. Connecting these 2 rocks creates an east-west line, the first step in finding which way north is.

  • To connect the 2 rocks, you can either draw a straight line in the dirt or lay a straight stick between them.

7. Mark a ‘W’ on the original location and an ‘E’ on the new location.

This creates a compass so you don’t forget which side is which.

  • Remember that the directions on a compass are North, East, South, and West in a clockwise direction. If you forget the order of the directions on a compass, remember the phrase “Never Eat Soggy Watermelon,” a memory device to remember the directions.\
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8. Put your left foot on ‘W’ and your right foot on the ‘E’ to find north.

When you’re in this position, your front will be facing north and your back will be facing south. This completes the compass. The north you’re facing is true north, because you’ve used the sun rather than the Earth’s magnetic field.

  • If you want to keep track of these directions, mark an ‘N’ where your front is facing and an ‘S’ where your back is facing to keep track.
  • This method works the same in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. The only difference is that in the Northern Hemisphere, the sun will be at your back, and in the Southern Hemisphere the sun will be in front of you.

Find True North

Method2: Using an Analog Watch and the Sun

1. Remove your analog watch and hold it in front of you.

Get a good view of the watch face and where the hour and minute hands are pointing.

  • For this method, use an analog watch with an hour and minute hand. A digital watch won’t work.

2. Find True North to Point the hour hand toward the sun if you’re in the Northern Hemisphere.

In the Northern Hemisphere, the sun points toward the south. Line up your watch’s hour hand with the sun as the first step to discovering the north-south line.

3. Find the halfway mark between the hour hand and 12 o’clock.

In the Northern Hemisphere, this halfway point marks the north-south line. True north is the side pointing away from the sun.

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  • Some analog watches have an adjustable rim for direction finding. If your watch has this, you can adjust it so an arrow sits at this halfway point.
  • Note that this method isn’t perfect because time zones throughout the world are not always consistent. You may not be able to locate the precise point of true north, but it will give you its general location.

4. Point the 12 o’clock mark towards the sun if you’re in the Southern Hemisphere.

Then find the halfway mark between the hour hand and the 12 o’clock point to locate the north-south line.

  • In the Southern Hemisphere, true north is the side pointing towards the sun.

5. Find True North to Use 1 o’clock instead of 12 during Daylight Savings.

Depending on the time of year and area of the world, Daylight Savings time could be in effect. The method works the same, but use since there is a 1-hour time difference, use 1 o’clock instead of 12.

  • Remember that Daylight Savings is between March and November in participating areas.

Find True North

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