Find your direction with a stick and the sun, Step-3
SURVIVAL SKILLS

Find Your Direction With A Stick And The Sun

There are many ways to determine the direction of north-south-east-west. A compass anyone? If you ever find yourself in a jam during the day without a compass (shame on you), one way to find your direction is by simply using a stick, two small stones, and the sun.

This actually works, and I challenge you to try it yourself.

To determine the east-west line, here’s how you do it…

1. Place a stick upright into the ground.

2. Use a small stone or object to mark the initial spot on the ground at the tip of the shadow that is cast by the stick.

Find your direction with a stick and the sun, step-1

3. Wait about 15 minutes for the sun to move in the sky — actually the earth’s rotation creates the illusion that the sun is moving, but you know what I mean…

4. The shadow will have moved a bit (the longer time that has elapsed, the more it will have moved). Add a second mark at the tip of the shadow’s new position cast by the stick.

Find your direction with a stick and the sun, step-2

5. Place a stick, or visualize a straight line between the two marked spots. This line is your approximate east-west line. Since the sun’s shadows move from west to east during the day, the first spot where you marked the shadow will be the west end.

Find your direction with a stick and the sun, step-3

Note: The reason to wait at least 15 minutes between the 1st and 2nd mark is to establish an accurate 2nd position of the shadow. Too soon and you may not be so accurate. 15 minutes is long enough to establish a fairly accurate direction.

If you try this, you will notice that even if you wait as long as an hour or more between marks, the east-west line will remain the same direction. Only the shadow length changes based on the angle of the sun in the sky.

Find east-west with a Stick and the Sun in 15 minutes

If it sounds like it can’t possibly work, then try it yourself in your yard!

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24 Comments

  1. I am so ready to try this.
    I read one direction finder that was so complicated and it didn’t work for me.
    Thanks for this–written and documented in my book of notes to keep. :-)

  2. very simple and easy need more examples like this to understand about latitude and longitude

    1. because if it only took 30 min to move from 0 to 45min then it wouldn’t be 45min. it would actually only be 30min

    2. The Earth has rotated about 3 degrees in 45 minutes (so it will rotate approximately 360 degrees in 24 hours i.e. ~1 degrees per 15 minutes).
      The minutes in the picture is a time unit, not the unit used in measuring a circumference

  3. What I don’t understand is how is the 1st mark west. Doesnt the sun, moon, stars and planets rise in the east and sets in the west? Then how is west first?

    1. A shadow will move in the opposite direction. This can be confirmed by using a flashlight and an object producing a good shadow. Move the light source from left to right and notice the direction f the shadow.

  4. Never mind I just realized why. But my next question is will it point to true north not magnetic north? (Just verifying)

  5. By far the simplest.Screw the watch method. I’ve used the shadow stick method more times than I can remember.

  6. The earth does revolve as stated but in this case we are concerned with it rotating not revolving.

    1. That’s a good point. I’ve changed that sentence in the article to more accurately reflect what’s going on. “…actually the earth’s rotation creates the illusion that the sun is moving”

  7. Did this at 70 degrees and it created a big curve hard to do east west line on such an extreme curve

  8. Aren’t we really drawing a line “through” the East-West stones, not “between” them?

    1. Depends on definitions. If the line stops at one stone and ends at the other, it’s literally “Between.”

      1. “Through” would be clearer, or “…connecting the two marked spots.” “Between” sounds like a line perpendicular to the line that is intended – between, as in not touching either. Without the pictures, it could be confusing.

      2. If you walk between two trees, you don’t walk from one tree to the other – you walk through with one on either side of you. :)

  9. I would like to be able to find accurate directions for the purpose of building. I want to build (and move sheds) so that one side is oriented perfectly south. I would like to do it without expensive tools. I do have a compass, but if there is a way to do it with even simpler tools (sticks and string) all the better. How can I perfectly orient my buildings, either with sticks, rocks, and string, or a compass?

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