Officer & Gent

Day Time Navigation Without Compass

Before GPS and even before maps and compasses, men were able to navigate the world simply by looking to the sky and his natural surroundings.  Sadly, because of a dependence on technology, the ability to navigate without tools has become a forgotten skill.  For this second, continuing look into navigation sans (in the absence of) compass or GPS, we will be focusing on Day time techniques.

Movement of the Sun Technique:

This may sound basic to many of you, but you would be surprised at the number of soldiers I have come across who did not know this basic fact.

The Sun Rises in the East and the Sun Sets in the West.  Depending on whether it is morning or evening, you can estimate your direction from this simple fact.  In summer it shifts a bit to the north rising in the north-east and setting in the north-west.  In the winter it shifts a bit south rising in the south east and setting in the south west.  Using this information we will look at two techniques, using the sun, that better determines the exact line North and South.

Analog Watch Technique:

To use this technique, first your watch must be set to standard time and not day lights savings time in order for this technique to work.  [This means you must set your watch back one hour if you’re on daylight savings time.  Daylight savings time is from Early March to Late November in the USA.]  Next, remove your watch and hold it level.  Orient the watch so that the hour hand points to the Sun.  Half way between the hour hand and 12 O’clock on your watch, is due South.


But, Captain Mills, “what if I’m not wearing an analog watch?”  Then find yourself a decent sized stick and lets try another method.

Shadowless-Shadow-Stick Technique:

A shadowless shadow stick may sound like a contradiction – but it really isn’t.  The idea is that you use a stick inserted into the ground in such a way that it casts no shadow, then wait for the sun to move ahead far enough for a decided shadow to form.  It is the simplest and quickest way of finding directions with the help of the Sun.  For this method, hammer into the ground a straight stick, two feet long or longer, at such a slant that the top of it points directly toward the sun.  When done correctly, the stick will cast no shadow.  Then wait until a shadow has formed long enough for easy reading – six inches or longer and mark the end of the shadow with a stone or other object.


This shadow points east from the stick.  It lies in a line that is closely true west-east, with west toward the base of the stick, east toward the tip of the shadow

Moss on a Tree Technique:

Some will tell you that you can tell where South is by observing the moss on a tree.  This is an old tale, passed down through generations and it is completely unreliable.  Moss can grow on any side of a tree.  Don’t be fooled by tales, use the methods taught above, and you’ll be heading the right direction.

– CPT Mills

Leave a Reply

Close Menu