Navigating Without a Compass – Part 2

Using an Analog Watch to Find South
This is the second part of a three part series describing easy to remember and reliable ways to accurately navigate without the use of a compass. In part one I described how you can use easily identifiable constellations to locate the north star, Polaris. In this second part I will show how you can use an analog watch and the sun to quickly determine North and South.

If you have an analog wrist watch, you can use the hands to navigate. I find it easier if I remove my watch and hold it in the palm of my hand in front of me. Holding your watch in front of you, turn around until the shorter hour hand is pointing directly toward the sun, you can ignore the minute hand as it is not needed for this method.

While holding your watch with the hour hand pointing towards the sun, imagine a line bisecting the angle between the hour hand and the 12 o’clock marker on the dial of your watch (not the minute hand) as represented by the red dashed line in the illustration below. This angle is your North/South line with the bisecting angle pointing toward South.

The above method will only work in the northern hemisphere. To navigate with an analog watch in the southern hemisphere you will need to modify this method slightly, but the principle is pretty much the same. In the southern hemisphere point the 12 o’clock marker on the dial of your watch at the sun and imagine a line bisecting that and the hour hand, that is your North/South line.

Using a Digital Watch
Many people wear digital watches these days, I’m a huge fan of Casio G-Shocks and wear one most of the time when I go hiking, but how do you use a digital watch which has no hands to navigate using the method described above? Well, it’s actually easier than you think.

If you have a piece of paper and a pencil or pen with you simply draw a blank analog watch face on a piece of paper and then mark the position of the hour hand using your digital watch as reference. Now use the drawing of the analog watch with the method described above.  If you don’t have a pen and paper you can use a stick to mark out a watch dial and position of the hour hand on the ground.  I’ve done this too many times to keep track and it works great every time.

In part three of this series I’ll explain how to use the shadow stick method to navigate.  These are my three favorite methods of navigating without a compass, but of course there are many more.  What methods do you use as a back up to your compass?

Related Posts You Might Like:

(Visited 9,364 times, 1 visits today)
Be Sociable, Share!
  • http://velohobo.com/ velohobo.com

    An excellent post. I seldom use a compass unless I’m orienting my map “right with the world”. This handy trick could shave an ounce or two from my kit. I’ve posted a link on my site to share with my readers, Thanks, Jack Moore

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09628095804170935682 Brian

    Thanks Jack. I decided to write these posts because a hiking friend thought they would be useful for others to know. I had just assumed that everyone knew these already.

    The third and final post is in the process of being written, combined they should equip most hikers with three relatively easy ways to navigate without the use of a compass.

    Glad you liked it enough to share!

  • http://www.watchwarehouse.co.uk/watches/diesel/ Diesel Watches

    I am very grateful
    to read a fantastic job. Thank you to discuss this important topic. I really
    admire the author for their less than impressive time for this item. Thank
    you.

  • wellmet

    You should probably point out that when your watch is set for daylight savings time that you should use bisect the arc between the location of the sun and 1 o’clock instead of 12 o’clock.

    • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

      Yes indeed! Thank you for pointing that out, I’ll add it to the main body of the post so that others will see it. I appreciate you leaving the comment :)

      That’s what I love about my blog and my readers, even if I miss something or get it slightly wrong, someone will leave a comment to let me know. I’m no expert, but collectively we have a vast amount of experience and knowledge and that’s what comes out in the comments and from your feedback.

      Thanks again!

    • Tom

      And the plot thickens: this method also assumes that the Sun is in the south (N. hemisphere) at 12 o’clock (or 1 o’clock DST). I live near Greenwich so I’m cool :) Some time zones are not well aligned with True Time or “Sun-dial time”, for example Spain currently shares a time zone with Germany (for historical reasons) and so in western Spain you may be over 8 degrees west of Greenwich but are in a time zone (UTC+1) suitable for a location 15 degrees east of Greenwich. So midday there is at about 1:30pm – or 2:30pm daylight saving time – and the direction to use instead of the 12 o’clock direction becomes the direction of the little hand at 1:30 (or 2:30).
      And the nearer you get to the equator, the dodgier this technique becomes. But then if you’re close to the equator and it’s before noon you know the Sun is east and afternoon it’s west – simple. Around midday it’s overhead and your best bet is to chill in the shade and wait a bit :)

  • haichel

    I don’t wear a watch or carry a compass when on the track.  We all know that the sun rises in the east – turn your face to east (if it is afternoon then the sun will be on your back) and north will be on your left hand and south will be on your right hand.  this works in the southern hemisphere and in the northern hemisphere and whether there is daylight savings or not !

    • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

      Yup that will work as long as your not in the shade of the forest or unfortunate enough to have overclouded weather. But it’s not going to work at night and I do hike in the dark :) If that works well enough for you, great, I would personally always encourage people to carry and learn how to use a compass – a watch is optional.

  • http://www.briangreen.net/ Brian Green

    Yes indeed! Thank you for pointing that out, I’ll add it to the main body of the post so that others will see it. I appreciate you leaving the comment :)

    That’s what I love about my blog and my readers, even if I miss something or get it slightly wrong, someone will leave a comment to let me know. I’m no expert, but collectively we have a vast amount of experience and knowledge and that’s what comes out in the comments and from your feedback.

    Thanks again!

  • wellmet

    You should probably point out that when your watch is set for daylight savings time that you should use bisect the arc between the location of the sun and 1 o’clock instead of 12 o’clock.

  • RobertNorwood

    Haichel is so smart he doesn’t need to carry anything – he’s going to get eaten by a bear.
    No matter what, where, or how long I have a knife, a means to make fire and a compass.

  • RobertNorwood

    Haichel is so smart he doesn’t need to carry anything – he’s going to get eaten by a bear.
    No matter what, where, or how long I have a knife, a means to make fire and a compass.

  • http://twitter.com/ManxSpike Paul Kennaugh

    You may need to do a little more Explaining here! eg at 6am the sun will most definitely be in a different place than at 6pm!!! ;) hehe

    • Tom

      Although the image says “south” the text says the direction given is the north/south line. A basic knowledge that the sun rises roughly in the east and swings around to the south (N. hemisphere) and sets in roughly the west is needed to interpret. We all know that don’t we?!

  • http://twitter.com/ManxSpike Paul Kennaugh

    You may need to do a little more Explaining here! eg at 6am the sun will most definitely be in a different place than at 6pm!!! ;) hehe

  • http://santridanalam.blogspot.com Yoiyok Yoyok

    its work in equator to ?

  • Chris Topher

    What type of watch is that?

  • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

    Yes. It’s one of a series of three dive watch models that I designed. The one you see here is #002 of a 500 watch production run.