How to Tell Which Direction You Are Looking In
Now that we all have GPS and Google Maps on our phones, we’re pretty bad at reading real paper maps and knowing which direction we’re looking in. So what should a modern person do if he does not have a telephone or a compass and needs to know where north is? Here are some strategies to point you in the right direction.
Use the sun
This is pretty basic information, but the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. If you are trying to figure out which direction you are looking at during sunrise or sunset, it is best to pay attention to where the sun is heading.
What about the rest of the day? To do this, we’ll turn to Pursuing Outdoors for another method:
First, we need to find a clean piece of land that receives a lot of direct sunlight. Then we need to find a stick and plant it in the ground.
Once we do this, we can see the shadow of the stick. We have to put a mark on the tip. After about 30 minutes, the tip of the shadow will move and we will need to mark it again.
Now that we have two points, we can connect them with a line. This line will give us a rough idea of the east-west direction.
Unfortunately, this only really works on a sunny day, but it’s a useful trick. Also, it should be taken for granted, but never look directly into the sun.
Use an analog clock
Telling the time on a non-digital watch or watch is becoming a lost art , but if you need a compass and are wearing an analog watch, you’re in luck. In fact, even if you have a fancy digital watch, all you have to do is render the hands on the dial. Then try this trick from Kirk Reynolds, CEO and guide of the Discover Outdoors via Mental Floss :
Take off your watch and align the hour hand with the sun. Imagine a line that crosses a point halfway between the hour and 12:00. This line points south. For example, if it is 4:00 AM, the middle line will point to 2:00 AM. Note that during summer you will need to set Daylight Saving Time to one hour, so move the hour hand back one hour. If you are in the Southern Hemisphere, align the sun at 12:00 and the imaginary line will point north.
Find a church
If you find yourself in a city or another city, look for a Christian church and / or cemetery. As we mentioned in the previous post , Christian churches are usually aligned west to east, with the main altar in the east facing sunrise. Headstones are also usually aligned west to east.
To look at the stars
If you need a compass and it is nighttime, look at the stars to determine which direction you are looking. According to Reynolds , you should be looking for Orion:
Orion is a constellation that rises in the east and sets in the west. Find Orion’s belt, three stars in the center forming a line. They point east / west, and Orion’s sword hanging from his belt points south.
Again, it doesn’t help much if it’s cloudy at night, but at least it’s an option.
This story was originally published on 6/10/06 and was updated on 10/24/19 to provide more complete and up-to-date information.