How To Tell Directions Without a Compass

There are a lot of signs or clues from nature that can signify your heading, in case you get lost in the woods, in the middle of the ocean, at the desert, or anywhere, for that matter, without any form of equipment or survival gear.

Check the position of the sun. During daytime, the position of the sun would help determine directions. The sun rises from the east, and sets in the west. And so in the morning, with the sun to your right you are facing north. In the afternoon, with the sun to your left, you are facing north, too. However, this may not exactly be 100% accurate, because the Earth tilts on its axis. But generally, the position of the sun would help determine your bearing, give or take a few degrees. In the summer half of the year, the sun will rise a little to the north of east, and sets north of west. In the other half of the year, though, the sun will rise a little south of east and sets a little south of west.

Find the North Star. If you are lost at night, look for the North Star. Look first for the collection of stars known as the Big Dipper, which looks like a big, angular, soup ladle. If you are in the northern hemisphere, the North Star would be the brightest star near the edge of the dipper itself away from the handle. It should also be situated within a constellation shaped like a W, that also points north.

At the southern hemisphere, the W-shaped constellation would be inverted pointing to the big dipper with the North Star in between, but pointing to the south this time as you are on the opposite side of the Earth.

Try tracking shadows. While the sun is still above the horizon in the afternoon, plant a stick where it casts a shadow, and mark the tip of the shadow with a rock or by drawing on the ground. Check again after a few minutes, as the shadow moves, and mark the tip of the shadow again. Draw a straight line across the two stones while facing the sun and the left tip of the line would point you to the east, with the opposite being west. Trees can also give you a clue: the side where moss grows will tend to point toward the direction where the sun rises.

Look for animal movement. In cooler weather, birds tend to flock and fly toward an area nearer the equator. So if you’re in the northern hemisphere, birds migrate southward. In the southern hemisphere, birds would migrate northward. This situation is reversed as spring arrives.

Check the wind temperature. If you’re located near the sea, you can approximate the direction of the coastline by feeling the wind. If the wind blows a cool breeze, then it is likely coming from the coast. If the wind is warm, it is most likely flowing toward the coast. The position of the coast relative to where you are currently standing would help determine, then, your bearing.

Remember, the direction you obtain is approximate and not absolute, but will be within a 15 degree margin of error.


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