Dec 25

Find the North Star

In a previous article we talked about important life skills. This piece passes on some very useful knowledge to aid in land navigation without the use of compass or map.

Land navigation is an essential life skill, but sometimes we don’t have a compass or perhaps there may be interference to the satellite that feeds your cool GPS unit.

Knowing how to find direction (true North) without such tools is very handy.

In order to travel without going in circles or getting lost, we have to determine where North is located. There are several ways to do this.

1.Using the North Star during hours of darkness to find true North- in the Northern Hemisphere

First you must locate the Big Dipper constellation in the sky.


This constellation rotates around the North Star through the night and through the seasons. Start at the “handle” and follow it to the “cup” or the dipper portion. The last two stars in the “dipper” are called “Pointers”. Visually draw a line between the pointer stars and continue away from them aproximately 5 times the distance between those 2 stars.

The line will bring you to the North Star.

Once you’ve located the north Star, place a stick in the ground about 2ft tall. Place a shorter stick a foot or two away, with the taller stick directly between the shorter stick and the North star.

Now line your eyesight along the tops of the two sticks and connecting to the North Star in the sky.

Draw a line on the ground connecting the sticks, if you have done this correctly you have a line pointing True North.

Facing North, East will always be to your right. South to the rear. West to your left.

2. Using your watch and the Sun to find North during hours of daylight in the Northern Hemisphere

With your watch level with the ground, point the hour hand at the Sun. Now look where the “12” is on your watch.

Identify the halfway point between the hour hand and the 12. That direction is South. Which means the opposite direction is North. East will always be to the right of North. South to the rear. West to your left.

During daylight savings time-spring to fall, turn your hour hand back 1 hour. Be sure to return the hour hand back after you find your direction. Always remember the sun always rises in the east and sets in the west. In the Northern Hemisphere, the sun is directly south at noon.

3. Another way to find North is by using the Sun, a stick, the ground, and two rocks

Step 1: Try to find some flat level area with very little or no vegetation at all.

Step 2: Place a straight stick upright into the ground and find the stick’s shadow.


Step 3: Now place your 1st rock at the tip of the stick’s shadow, this is your “West” mark.


Step 4: Wait approximately 15, 20 or 30 minutes for the stick’s shadow to move a few inches.

Step 5: Now place another rock at the tip of this other stick’s shadow, this is your “East” mark.

Step 6: Now draw a straight line or place a straight stick from your “East” rock to your “West” rock.

Step 7: And now draw another straight line or place another straight stick across your “East-to-West” line/stick and this is now your “North-South” line/stick.


4. Cloudy Day Method- no sun

Step 1: Place a sharp pointed knife vertically on your thumb nail.

Step 2: Look closely at your thumb nail and find the lightly cast knife shadow.

Step 3: Now rotate your entire body until the lightly cast knife shadow is at its thinnest.

Step 4: If it’s morning (0700-1100), you will be facing an Easterly direction. At mid day (1100-1300), you will be facing a Southernly direction, and in the afternoon you will be facing a Westernly direction.

5. Using vegetation to find North

Moss grows on the North side of trees. Bark is usually wider on the South side and tighter on the North side.

When looking at a mountain, there will be more vegetation on the north facing side of a mountain then on the south. The same can be said for a valley. Look to the slopes to both sides of the valley — if the valley runs north and south, there will be more vegetation on the north facing slope than on the south facing slope.

Once we have established where North lies, by using landmarks and line-of-sight bearings we are able to travel in the right direction with some degree of certainty. Of course, nothing is going to compare to a quality compass, topo map, or GPS, and the knowledge of their use -but these skills will work in a pinch.

Study and practice these field expedient methods. Competent application of them may one day aid in the success of a mission or save your life.




More about Land Navigation skills here.

Happy Trails!

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    • d on January 11, 2015 at 9:30 am
    • Reply

    Like this article see if I cant actually learn it by summer at least!

    1. Try it any time of year.
      I was playing around with how much light/shadow is noticeable in a snow storm and on cloudy winter days. You may be surprised!
      In fact, we are experiencing a day of icy-rain. It is vital to know how to navigate in all conditions….and in certain environments it could key to survival.

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