Land Navigation using the Sun to Navigate

Using the Sun to Navigate


Land navigation is a skill based on the use of a compass and topographical map.  Navigating through a wilderness area requires that you have a basic skill set to do so.  What happens if for whatever reason you do not have a map, compass or even a GPS? How can you navigate?

There is a navigational tool that you will always have in a wilderness area and that is the sun.  The sun has been used navigate wilderness areas for thousands of years by adventures.  The sun will help you determine your cardinal directions of North, South, East and West. Knowing your cardinal direction can get you to safety or to water in a survival situation.

In this article, I will discuss a technique that I learned in the Army in helping me determine the cardinal directions.  Before I do so, everyone should know that the sun always the sun always rises in the east and it sets in the west no matter where you are on earth.  The sun rises in the east because the earth rotates on its axis to the east.  Knowing this will give you the information on determining where North, South, and West are.

The Sun Rising in the East

The problem you will encounter with this is determining where the sun was rising if it is noontime.  At noon the sun will be directly over you making it impossible to figure out where east is.  That is where this second method comes in. This method is called the Shadow Tip Method.  

Shadow Tip Method

This method uses a stick (3 feet in length) and (2) marking objects such as some small rocks.  In most wilderness areas you should be able to find these objects with no problem. 

  1.  Find an open area that allows you to visually see the sky.

Find an open area with a view of the sky.

2.  Take your stick and push it into the ground.

Land Navigation using the Sun
Place the stick in the ground.

3.  The sun will cast a shadow off the stick.  Place a marker on the tip of the shadow.  (I am using a rock).

Mark the first shadow tip. I have a blanket on the ground so you can visual see the tip of the shadow better. 

4.  Wait 15 minutes and then mark the second tip of the shadow with your second marker.  This becomes your east/west line.

Mark the second shadow tip (This is my east west line)

5. Take your left foot and place it behind the first marker you put down.  Then take your right foot and place it behind the second marker you put down.  You are now facing north.

You are facing North (If you are in the North Hemisphere)

Once you determine north than you will be able to get the other three cardinal directions.   The important thing that you must remember  when using this method is which hemisphere you are in.  If you are in the north hemisphere then you will be facing north when you have situated your feet (above).  If you are in the south hemisphere than you will be facing south when you have situated your feet (above).

The equator determines your north and south hemispheres.  The equator is an imaginary line that divides the earth in the center. Everything above it is in the north hemisphere and everything below it is in the south hemisphere.  The equator runs through the country of Ecuador that is located in South America.  Here in the United States we are in the North Hemisphere.


Using the sun can be an effective way to get you out of a bad situation when you do not have a compass, map or GPS.  If it is a cloudy or rainy day then this method will be difficult to use.  This technique is simple to set up given the materials needed and it is another is a survival tool you can add to your skill set.

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