Hi, Here's a short article I put together on finding direction without a compass. Hope they're of interest, if you don't already know them...

Hiking, and in particular hiking in remote areas, is a great experience if approached with due regard for fitness, safety and skill.
One of the major skill categories, is the ability to navigate with or without compass and map. Ideally, no one should head off the beaten track without map or compass, but what if you find yourself in that situation, or you lose or damage your compass?
Here are a few basic ‘skills’ that could one day be of use to you.

Finding direction by using your watch...
If you have a watch that is set to local time, you can always quickly determine the points of the compass as long as the position of the sun is visible.
The method used varies depending upon which hemisphere (northern or southern) that you happen to be living in. The following methods are described using an analog watch, (that’s a watch with an hour and a minute hand) but they can be applied just as well if you own a digital watch – just use your imagination to superimpose the 12 hourly numerals and the relevant position of the ‘hour hand’ on the face of your digital watch. This method will give you a good approximation of true north or south but is not a substitute for the accuracy of a compass and the closer you are to the Equator, the less accurate.

Northern Hemisphere
Holding your watch horizontally, point the ‘hour hand’ of your watch at the sun.
Note the direction that lies exactly midway between the ‘hour hand’ and the numeral twelve on your watch. This will be South on a north/south line.
If there is any doubt as to which end of the line is north, remember that the sun rises in the east, sets in the west, and is due north at noon. The sun is in the east before noon and in the west after noon.
Once you have established this, it will be easy to determine the other points of the compass.

Southern Hemisphere
Holding your watch horizontally, point the numeral twelve on your watch at the sun.
Note the direction that lies exactly midway between the twelve and the ‘hour hand’.
This will be North on a north/south line. If there is any doubt as to which end of the line is north, remember that the sun rises in the east, sets in the west, and is due north at noon. The sun is in the east before noon and in the west after noon.
These methods will give you a good approximation of compass direction.
If your watch happens to be adjusted for daylight saving at the time, then ‘remove’ the daylight saving for greater accuracy.

Another method of determining compass points can be used if you do not have a watch. This method takes longer and also requires enough sunlight to cast a shadow...

To find North without a watch
Before noon, on level terrain, position a stick of about 3ft upright into the ground.
Mark the tip of its shadow with a peg or stone.
Using the tip of the shadow as a radius, draw an arc around the stick.
The shadow will shorten as it approaches noon, pulling back from the arc. It will then lengthen again - where the afternoon shadow once again touches the arc, place another peg or stone.
Now draw a straight line between the two pegs/stones - this will be an East/West line, with the first peg being in the westerly direction.
You can now draw a North/South line at right angles to the East/West line.

The following (less accurate) method can also be used at any time of the day without drawing an arc...
Peg the tip of the first shadow, then about 20min later peg the tip of the moved shadow. Draw a straight line between the two pegs, and this will be an approximately East/West line, with the first peg again being the westerly one.

A typical error when lost, is a tendency to wander off what you may think is a straight line bearing, sometimes even slowly circling back on yourself.
To prevent this, note an object (tree, rock, terrain feature) that lies directly ahead of you in the direction you wish to travel, then aim for it. When you reach it, take another bearing on the direction you wish to head, sight another object directly ahead of you and repeat the process.
In areas of restricted distance visibility, you may have to repeat this quite often over short ‘legs’ to ensure that you are remaining on course.

Keeping a course by the clouds... What if it's a cloudy day with no sun visible to get a bearing on, or the bush canopy prevents you getting a clear "shot" at the sun?
Well, if you're lucky, it may be windy with the clouds moving in a constant direction - note the directional flow of the clouds, and adjust your course relevant to their direction.
e.g., If the clouds are moving from your front from right to left over your shoulders, keep them there, at the same time, sight an object straight ahead of you and head for it.
To retrace your steps in the same general direction, just do an about turn, then keep the clouds moving from behind and now left to right over your shoulders, and repeat the process.

Being aware of your surroundings will often pay off, so try to cultivate that habit.

Telling the time without a watch...
Determine North, South, East and West using the method previously described.
Position your stick at the intersection point of your East/West, North/South lines.
The Eastern point of the arc around the stick will be 1800hrs, the Western point will be 0600hrs, whilst the Northern or Southern (depending on which hemisphere you're in) midpoint of the arc will be 1200hrs.
The approximate time of day can then be read off the arc using the moving shadow.

Hope that's of interest.
Cheers, George
Last edited by Geo.; 07-04-2007 at 23:10.

2. Thanks George,
Determining time and direction without modern aid is becoming a more fascinating subject for me. As is the interaction between modern methods of telling one or other.

Did you put this article up for a magazine or just for our benefit?

As a continuation to your post, in an urban environment, domestic satellite dishes are always aligned either south in the northern hemisphere or north in the southern.

Cheers

Ogri the trog

3. Good post Geo.

There is a useful article on the Viking use of a sun compass here which you might find useful.

I've tried them in the past and they work quite well.

4. The two 'horns' of the crescent moon, when an imaginary line is drawn across the tips and followed on to the horizon, will give you a pretty accurate southern direction in the northern hemisphere, and vice versa.

I think there was a thread long ago about finding north without compass. Worth digging out as it had lots of top ideas in there.

5. Hi Ogri, Wayland and Spamel,
Be interesting to have a go at making one of those sun compasses and also checking out the next crescent moon.
I guess direction/position finding is always of interest to folk who wander about outdoors. (or should be!) I know the few 'unhappy' experiences I've had in the past, have usually been due to not knowing exactly where I am!

Ogri, I had those 'tips' that I posted, up on my website for a while, and thought that they could be of interest to some of the members of the outdoor sites I lurk on, so I knocked up that article.
You're right about the satellite dishes. I just looked out my window and sure enough they are all facing north - navigation in the 'burbs! All bases covered - great stuff!
Cheers, George.

6. A friend of my brothers told me about the satellite dishes, he's with MI5 and they use them around London for keeping their bearings, but the other one was to do with aircaft landing at Heathrow, they apparently approach from a certain direction. I didn't pay much heed to it, because if I am lost in the woods of Germany and I see planes landing over Heathrow, I've gone horribly wrong somewhere!!

7. Settler Settler
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Originally Posted by spamel
The two 'horns' of the crescent moon, when an imaginary line is drawn across the tips and followed on to the horizon, will give you a pretty accurate southern direction in the northern hemisphere, and vice versa.
Thanks for the tip. It's a new one on me.

8. what a great article. thanks geo. I had heard of using your watch but was not entirely sure how to (perhaps i should be able to work it out given my astronomical education!), so thanks for that.

ian

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Not Bushcrafty but interesting nonetheless, for a more scholarly book on navigating without modern instruments, take a look at We, the Navigators by David Lewis [ ISBN: 0824815823 ] which explores the way the Polynesians navigated between Islands hundreds of miles apart, using swells, currents and stars. A wonderful read.

here's an extract from the preface. take a look at the stick chart!

http://www.janesoceania.com/oceania_lewis/
Last edited by Don Redondo; 21-03-2006 at 15:22.

10. Hello Don,
Yes, David Lewis was a great character and a very competent seaman/navigator.
He was born in the UK but had lived here in NZ and the islands since his school days - I met him after attending a talk he was giving here, a few years before he died I suppose,
He'd made some incredible single handed voyages in his time, e.g., down into Antarctica in his steel yacht "Ice Bird".
He continued sailing right up to the last - travelling up the east coast of Aussie with eyesight failing until he went blind. He died on that journey, well into his eighties I think.
An interesting, intelligent, and mentally strong man.
Cheers, George

11. Great thread,enjoyed that.I think this sort of knowledge should be taught on a curriculum level.BTW
Got A friend .He stayed with his mate who lived in a part of London called Balham. Stayed at his for a couple of days, couldn't find his way out of London to save his' life.. so he followed the 'planes. It worked.

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Is it just me?

If I've been to somewhere once, and driven /cycled or walked it, I can always remember my way back there, even years later and sometimes coming at it from a somewhat different direction.

Not the same if I'm a passenger, and of course if everything has been demolished or the routes changed it's a bit more difficult

I'm also able to visualise and match the terrain visible to a map in most cases, through some sort of intuative process, checking it out later with a plotter and compass to verify this of course .[don't want to walk over a cliff!]

I dunno, I just seem to know where I am at any given time from clues around me. Does anyone else experience this?

It's quite disconcerting in some ways.

13. No not at all.Im the same,I can go somewhere once,eg, down the road do a left do a right and left again,and when I come back its just lodged in there to do a right a left and a right again.Its definately a bonus to have this skill.I have a friend I used to work with,and we had a job in Manchester to do(about 30 miles away from us).We were on site for about a week and everyday he needed the A-Z out.
BTW
Can anyone shed light on the other navigational tip,where moss or lichen(may be incorrect spelling)grows on a certain side of the tree......is this east??

14. Settler Settler
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Originally Posted by Don Redondo

I'm also able to visualise and match the terrain visible to a map in most cases, through some sort of intuative process, checking it out later with a plotter and compass to verify this of course .[don't want to walk over a cliff!]

I dunno, I just seem to know where I am at any given time from clues around me. Does anyone else experience this?

It's quite disconcerting in some ways.
Yup, I know what you mean, DR .
I have some of this, too, to a limited extent.

Providing that theres things to be seen .

Ive always thought that its something that happens without thinking about it.

Of course, the real downer, is that it dosnt happen in woods, for example, so, no claims for having an intuitive sense of direction there!

Got real disconcerted, testing a magnetic compass today.
Applied the Var correctly and was really careful with the Obs,s. So it was a bit of a suprise when the plot revealed that , overnight, somebody had shifted the Humber Bridge by about 500 mtrs to the Eastwards!

I wonder if anyone,s told ,em yet?

Ceeg

15. [QUOTE=BTW
Can anyone shed light on the other navigational tip,where moss or lichen(may be incorrect spelling)grows on a certain side of the tree......is this east?? [/QUOTE]

Well, the theory is that it grows on the side that doesn't see the sun, so that'll vary depending on which hemisphere you're in. (north or south) Having said that, I've never found it to be a reliable method anywhere, as there seems to be too many variables that affect moss growth. eg in some parts here in NZ, the bush is very dense, (and damp) and one of the variables is that moss will grow wherever it wants to!

Wish I had those inbuilt homing capabilities! But despite a fair bit of wandering around over the years, I've found that I need to pay very close attention, and another reason I guess, as to why I'm interested in navigation methods/tips!
Cheers, George.

16. The buttress roots from trees can be another navigation aid but certainly not fool-proof and many trees should be looked at. The prevailing wind in Britain is South westerly. That is it blows from the SW towards the NE. Buttress roots are sometimes larger towards the SW side of the tree, as the tree has to grow larger roots to anchor it against the direction the wind is trying to blow it in. If you follow me
Try this Sea angling website for a nice little write up on our weather http://www.worldseafishing.com/weath...er_watch.shtml

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Originally Posted by falling rain
The buttress roots from trees can be another navigation aid but certainly not fool-proof and many trees should be looked at. The prevailing wind in Britain is South westerly. That is it blows from the SW towards the NE. Buttress roots are sometimes larger towards the SW side of the tree, as the tree has to grow larger roots to anchor it against the direction the wind is trying to blow it in. If you follow me
Not one I would put any faith in I'm afraid . slope, ground conditions, soil structure, available nutrients etc all conspire to allow asymetrical growth patterns, which in turn means that buttress development to off-set the imbalance. The best bay of using prevailing winds and tree growth is where you find a lot of crown sculpting [the wedge of crown growing downwind] and this really only tends to happen in more open areas, or on the windward edges of woods and plantations.

But it's still another indicator to have in the knowledge bag.

18. Originally Posted by Don Redondo
Not one I would put any faith in I'm afraid . slope, ground conditions, soil structure, available nutrients etc all conspire to allow asymetrical growth patterns, which in turn means that buttress development to off-set the imbalance. The best bay of using prevailing winds and tree growth is where you find a lot of crown sculpting [the wedge of crown growing downwind] and this really only tends to happen in more open areas, or on the windward edges of woods and plantations.

But it's still another indicator to have in the knowledge bag.
I sometimes check with a compass and have found that it is fairly often and in the right conditions/setting a reliable method.
Indeed of course the conditions and setting need to be right. common sense should tell you not to rely on this on sloping ground and it's only a vauge aid as is the tree crown method. both rquire looking at several trees conditions/ground need to be right and of course as mentioned it's certainly not fool-proof.

I believe wood ants also usually build their nests on the south or south east side of trees but have never checked this. There are quite a few nests down on Dartmoor. Must check next time I'm down there.
I also remember reading once about a grub (Could have been a moth grub pupae etc I can't remember) that apparently can be found on north sides of trees under ground. Anyone know of this or can explain a bit more?
Last edited by falling rain; 24-03-2006 at 10:25.

19. I think one of the best ways to develop a better sense of your surroundings is to spend many weeks/ weekends using your map closely with the ground. As in every few hundred metres getting your map out and setting it to ground, practice judging distances, resections, pacing etc. Over time you will start to memorise small details of your planned route that will help prevent you getting lost, also it will give you more confidence.

After all being lost is really a state of mind, not an unknown location. You can figure the location out, the state of mind is more difficult to overcome.

Also to walk in the night an try using the stars, such as polaris to help with direction.

I've been with Mountain Leaders in Africa, who were using GPS. And still managed to inform them we were on a different spur from the one they were telling everybody else. Not always good to undermine a leader, but hey, they need to know when they are going wrong to. (the event in question was only seconds from 0 longditude) they were reading west on the gps we were actually east. Its better to be confident with a map alone, incase you damage your compass.) The leaders thanked me in the end, even if they were a little embaressed.

Practice is the best nav tip I can give you, and tailor to your needs.

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