How To Use A Watch As A Compass

How to use a Watch as a Compass

How To Use A Watch As A Compass
Northern Hemisphere

A surprisingly simple and easy way to use your watch as a compass only requires having enough sunlight to cast a shadow from a twig.

If you ever become lost, and do not have a compass, you can easily discover your direction by establishing a North-South line from your wrist watch. Here are the details…


In the Northern Hemishpere…

Align a twig (pointing up) at the edge of your watch so that it casts a shadow onto the face of the watch from the sun.

Then while holding the twig steady, rotate the watch until the twig’s shadow is cast directly onto the position of the hour hand.

In other words, you’re aligning the shadow with the hour hand (you’re pointing the hour hand in the direction of the sun).

Bisect the angle between the hour hand and 12-oclock. This halfway point between the hour hand and the 12-oclock position is your North-South line.

To determine which end of the line is north, remember this…

The sun rises in the east, and is in the east before noon.
The sun is due south at noon.
The sun sets in the west, and is in the west after noon.

Note: If your watch is set to daylight savings time, use the halfway point between the hour hand and 1 o’clock to determine the north-south line.


In the Southern Hemisphere

Align a twig (pointing up) at the edge of your watch so that it casts a shadow onto the face of the watch from the sun.

Then while holding the twig steady, rotate the watch until the twig’s shadow is cast directly onto the 12-oclock mark.

In other words, you’re aligning the shadow with the 12-oclock mark (you’re pointing the 12-oclock mark in the direction of the sun).

The halfway point between 12-oclock and the hour hand is your North-South line.

How to use a watch as a compass in the Southern Hemisphere
Southern Hemisphere

For the curious… the watch in the photo is a Luminox 1881.BO Blackout

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  1. Thanks for some good info. I always struggle with finding north. I have seen other tricks for finding north but this is less work and easier.

  2. Put a stick in the ground put your left foot on the end of the shadow, wait 15 – 30 minutes put your right foot on the end of the shadow.. your now facing North..

    1. Would this be with your back towards the stick or facing it?….ohhh, nevermind, it can only be done with your back to it….I think?

    1. Lol. Me too. I have a cool digital watch but I think I need one of those watches with the hands that also has the digital time under it. Anyone know what I’m talking about?

  3. Not familiar with the watch in the picture. Does it require batteries or electronics?

    Went with the Invicta 8926OB myself. $89 delivered on Amazon. Uses a Seiko 24 jewel movement. Oddly enough, the competing Seiko model uses a 21 jewel movement and costs twice as much.

    Kind of an off thought or two. Maybe three. Most folks never live more than a hundred miles from where they were born. Look at the Sun, usually rises in the East. Any trees around? Moss on trees?

    Of course you could just get a compass.

    1. In summer, the sun rises in the North East, goes round very high to South at noon, and sets in the North West… in winter, sun rises in the south east, keeps low, and sets in the south west. So that really won’t work… moss grows on various sides of various trees… to risky to use reliably.. Learn the watch method – if you have a digital watch, you can read the time, then use your arms (one points at noon, the other points where the hour hand would – half way between is south).

  4. I just wanted to check my memory having been told this method some years I was pleased to learn the earth is still going round the sun!,

  5. To use this method you need to now the actual “solar time”, depending on the place it could be a lot different from normal time (for example in China).
    In Spain you need to use the actual time -2 hours in summer, and -1 during winter, to be more precise.

  6. Simpler method:
    Cut a cork in half length-wise, stick a pin or needle in to width-wise, put it in water, and it will ALWAYS point to magnetic North/South.
    Use sun-up/sun-down to determin which is the north direction.

  7. I’d recommend learning the shadow tip method. That’s taught both in the military as well as most survival schools. There are times when you might not have a watch, but you can almost always find a stick to stick in the ground to cast a shadow. It works everywhere but the polar regions.

    The worst areas to get lost (at least to me) are in heavily forested regions or in thickets. There you often go one direction but then the path is too rough and you have to double back and circle around. Doing this many times, say in an area where there is lots of muck or swamp coupled with the forest and you end up hopelessly lost.

    Since you often will come to a clearing (even a small one) then most of the time the sun is out at some point and you can utilize the shadow tip method.

    When lost, most people get filled with anxiety and then rush off in one direction. Since we all favor one leg over the other, then we tend to take a bigger stride with that leg. As such, as you traverse unfamiliar terrain, then you tend to eventually walk in fits and starts in a circular path. Taking a bearing with the shadow tip method will definitely help as long as you can find some opening in the forest canopy to get a cast shadow. Stopping for a bearing is important when panicking anyway.

  8. Good. It’s a tried and true method. Even the Vikings with their sun shadow compass used a variation on the idea.

  9. Using your watch as a compass, don’t you also need to account for daylight savings time? We push the hour hand ahead an hour every spring, but the earth doesn’t change its rotation. All I know is that when my shadow is facing north in the summer time, it’s 1:00 pm. Each digit on an analog watch is 30 degrees, I’d hate to be lost and wander off 30 degrees from where I need to go. You can walk right past a whole town, let alone trying to find where you parked your car for your hike.

    1. Nevermind, I just re-read the article and must’ve missed your note about daylight savings time. My bad. Thumbs up on the article Ken.

  10. Donny using the twig it’s as if your putting ” red Fred In the shed” the direction of travel?

  11. Note: this method only works at the equinoxes, because during the rest of the year the sun is not at the meridian (directly north if you are in the southern hemisphere). Instead, find at what time the sun is at its peak at whatever time of year it happens to be at the moment, and point that time (instead of twelve o’clock) at the sun.

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