How to Tell Directions without a Compass

No compass or map? No problem. Figure your way out of the wilderness just by looking around you.

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Up next in Wilderness Survival Skills (40 videos)

Conquer the wilderness with the survival tips in these Howcast videos. You'll learn how to make fire, build a shelter, boil water with hot stones, make a bow and arrow, avoid poison ivy, purify water, track animals, make a solar still, tan a hide, sharpen a jackknife, avoid a snakebite, tell directions without a compass, and much more.

You Will Need

  • A stick
  • Two rocks
  • The ability to locate constellations

Steps

  1. Step 1

    Use the shadow stick method

    During the day, try the shadow stick method. Find a stick about three feet tall and put it in a flat piece of ground with no greenery nearby. Mark the end of its shadow with a rock. Wait 30 minutes, and mark the tip of the new shadow. The connecting line runs from west to east, with the first mark indicating west.

  2. Step 2

    Observe any snow

    If there is lingering snow on the ground, gauge where it’s located. In the Northern Hemisphere, there will be more snow on north-facing slopes, which generally get less sun.

  3. Step 3

    Inspect tree bark

    Inspect older trees. In the Northern Hemisphere, the side of the tree with the thinner bark is usually facing southeast. Also, there tends to be more foliage on that side.

  4. Contrary to conventional wisdom, moss can grow on sides other than north, so this is not an accurate predictor of direction.

  5. Step 4

    Wait until the sun begins setting

    Wait until the sun begins setting. Whichever direction it’s going down is west.

  6. Step 5

    Look at the moon

    If the moon is in a crescent phase, imagine a line running from its top tip to its bottom tip and continuing all the way down to the horizon. If you’re in the Northern Hemisphere, the point where the imaginary line touches the ground is south.

  7. Step 6

    Find the North Star

    If the moon is not in a crescent phase, find the North star by locating the Big Dipper and following the front edge of its cup from bottom to top, extending that line up about five times its length until you see a star.

  8. Step 7

    Walk in a straight line

    Once you know where you’re going, walk in a straight line. To avoid accidentally veering off course, find landmarks to walk toward, and go around obstacles on alternating sides every time you come to one.

  9. Step 8

    Buy a compass

    Buy a compass as soon as you get back to civilization.

  10. The magnetic compass was first used by the Chinese over 2,000 years ago.

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