survival fall 2009 065Stick & Shadow Compass

If you somehow find yourself disorientated without a compass or GPS for assistance you can try the shadow stick compass method.  This method will give you a rough estimate of a west to east line which you can then use to find north & south.  This method may only help you if you know what direction of travel you need to go to get out of your predicament.  The directions given here are for North America.

Place a 2-3 foot stick vertically in a smooth area that will be in direct sunlight for an hour or longer. Mark the end of the stick’s shadow with a rock or other object and every 15 minutes or so place another small object at the end of the stick’s shadow. The first shadow spot marked will always be west of the next mark. Keep marking the end of the shadow line & the marked spots will give you a rough WEST to EAST line.  Once this line is established you can draw a 90 degree perpendicular line to your west-east line and you will now have your north- south line. This method is an approximation of the compass directions; it is not as precise as a compass.

If you do this method all day long, at mid-day, the sun is neither east or west of us but to the south.  So the shortest shadow from the stick would represent North & the base of the stick South.  This will work during any season because in the northern hemisphere, even in summer, the sun is still towards our south (because we are north of the tropic of Cancer).
sun stick

This is a great improvisational method to determine your exit route (safety bearing) if you do not have your compass with you.  A safety bearing is a predetermined direction of travel heading that you can travel if you get lost on your backcountry trip.