While getting lost may seem like a fun adventure, the fun is over very quickly if you can’t find your way to safety. Any serious hiker knows how to navigate with a map and a compass, but before you master that skill (which is less complicated than it seems), there are other ways to find true north. These methods might not be as accurate for navigation, but and learning them is a useful and easy survival technique. In addition, it's also a great family pastime suitable even for children too young to read a compass.
Lay your watch flat on the palm of your hand with the hour hand pointing at the sun. An imaginary line running through the middle of the angle created by the hour hand and 12 o’clock mark is the north-south line, with north being further away from the sun. (In the southern hemisphere, line up the 12 o’clock mark with the sun instead of the hour hand.)
Remember, this only works with a watch that shows the correct time! If your watch is set to daylight saving time, simply wind it back one hour. If you only have a digital watch, you can recreate the same method with sticks, drawing the watch face on the ground.
The watch method, unfortunately, doesn’t work very well close to the equator, making it yet another reason never to get lost in the tropics!
The shadow-stick method
For this method of finding the cardinal directions, you will need two sticks and two stones. Take your first stick and stick it into flat ground so that it casts a shadow. Find the tip of the shadow and mark it with a rock. Now it’s time to sit back and brew some tea, as you have to wait around 15 minutes to half an hour. Once the shadow shifts, take a second rock and mark the new position of its ending.
This is where the second stick comes into play. Position it so that it joins the two rocks on the ground and it becomes your west-east line, with west being your first rock. If you stand so that you have west on your left, you will be facing north.
On a cloudless night in the northern hemisphere, the Northern Star, also known as Polaris, is the most obvious direction indicator. The catch is that contrary to common belief, it is not the brightest star in the night sky (that would be Syrius also known as the Dog Star).
To find Polaris, you will have to first locate the Big Dipper or Ursa Major. The straight line between the two stars at the tip of the dipper runs straight toward Polaris, which is also the tip of the handle of the Little Dipper (Ursa Minor).
Although this method works for determining the cardinal directions, navigating by the stars can be much more precise than that and was used for centuries before the invention of the compass. Even today, some adventurers forgo all modern technology and revert to navigating by the stars as a means of honoring this ancient tradition and enriching their experience of the outdoors.