Find Your way Out

How to Find Your Way in Deep Forest

Find True North Without a Compass

Which way is north? Whether you're lost in the woods or you're trying to install a sundial in your yard, you're bound to want to find true north from time to time, and chances are when the time comes you won't have a compass. What's more, even if you do have a compass, it will point to magnetic north, which, depending on your location in the world, can vary a great deal from true north. So what's an intrepid explorer to do? Read this article to find several different ways to find your way.

The Sun Method

  1. If you are stuck for a long period of time...use the Sun. It rises in the east and sets in the west.(remember: Cowboys_from the west_ ride off into the sunset) After you eat and are ready to begin finding you way and have plenty of food and water ready...put the rising sun on your RIGHT shoulder and keep it there. When the sun is straight above you... stop, rest, eat and drink all while keeping DIRECTLY under the sun, then simply put the sun on your left shoulder as it sets. You should be home in no time...or just going really far North.

Shadow-Tip Method - #1A

  1. Place a stick securely in the ground so that you can see its shadow. The stick does not need to be straight or at any particular angle relative to the ground. Alternatively, you can use the shadow of any fixed object. Nearly any object will work, but the taller the object is, the easier it will be to see the movement of its shadow, and the narrower the tip of the object is, the more accurate the reading will be. Make sure the shadow is cast on a level, brush-free spot.
  2. Mark the tip of the shadow with a small object, such as a pebble, or a distinct scratch in the ground. Try to make the mark as small as possible so as to pinpoint the shadow's tip, but make sure you can identify the mark later.
  3. Wait 10-15 minutes. The shadow will move mostly from west to east in an arc which depends on your latitude, season and time of day.
  4. Mark the new position of the shadow's tip with another small object or scratch. It will likely move only a short distance.
  5. Draw a straight line in the ground through the two marks. This is approximately an east-to-west line.
  6. Stand with the first mark (west) on your left, and the other (east) on your right. You are now facing approximately toward true north. (Accuracy improves as your location approaches the equator, as the time of year approaches either equinox and as the time of day approaches midday.)

Shadow-Tip Method - #1B

  1. Find a straight, slender stick that is 1 to 2 feet in length.
  2. Securely place the stick in the ground so that it will not move and pointing directly at the sun. You should see no shadow.
  3. Wait 10-15 minutes, or until there is a shadow about 4 inches long. The shadow will be pointing toward the east.
  4. Stand with the stick on your left, with the shadow extending to your right. You are now facing toward the north.

This method is a slight variation of Shadow-Tip Method #1A in that the point where the stick enters the ground in this method is equivalent to the first shadow-tip mark in method #1A. Exactly as in method #1A, accuracy improves as your location approaches the equator, as the time of year approaches either equinox and as the time of day approaches midday.

Shadow-Tip Method - #2 (for Increased Accuracy)

Each year, dozens of people get lost in the Mountains and become the subjects of search-and-rescue missions. In most cases, people simply wandered off of marked trails and lost their bearings. Losing one's way in the woods can be an unsettling, frightful experience. If you follow the blazes or cairns, you should have no trouble. But, if you should find you've wandered off the path, stop immediately. In many cases, you will find that retracing your footsteps will bring you back to the trail. If not, follow these steps:

What to do when lost

  1. Pay close attention to your surroundings and landmarks and relate this to your location on a map.
  2. Stay calm if you get lost. Panic is your greatest enemy. If you run wildly around, even for a little while you could lose your sense of direction complete. Try to remember how you got to your present location.
  3. Trust your map and compass (if you have them) and do not walk aimlessly. Use the compass to give you a sense of direction. Think of which way you came, and if that was Northeast, and then recall if you took a turn and what the direction the turn was. If you are calm, you can remember a great many things. If you are on a trail do not leave it.
  4. Start retracing your steps. Leave markers where ever you go, so you can return to where you are. Also, if someone tries to find you, they will look for markers. So make as many as you can, on every turn that you make, and try to mark the direction you are taking. You got off the trail, maybe ten minutes ago, so if you track back more than that time, you know you are on the wrong track.
  5. Remember that if you are not able to retrace your steps, then the best thing is to just stay put, in one place and let the searchers find you. Create a marking so it can be seen by air. Sing loudly or shout help, when you hear others trying to find you. If you have a whistle, blow it. Stay in the open so they can find you easily. Do not hide in a cave or under brushes.
  6. Stay put if it is nightfall, if you are injured,, or if you are near exhaustion it is smarter to stay put and try to find your way out in the daylight.
  7. Remember that as a last resort, follow a drainage or stream downhill or downstream. This can be hard going but will often lead to a trail or road. and you will eventually come to civilization.


  • Make sure you bring plenty of matches or a lighter. Along with this bring even more water than you expect to drink. This is not for the daily drinking, but more for being prepared if you get lost. Moisten your mouth instead of actually drinking, will make the water last longer.
  • Always keep to the trail, never wander off. This will keep you from getting lost in the first place.
  • Never leave for any camping trip unless you tell a friend, or a family member, or both where exactly you are going, and what trail you will be taking. Someone should be told so that if you get lost, and are not back at the day or time specified they know where to look for you.

Using a Cellphone

  1. Download a compass program for your cellphone. Compass programs exist for almost all cellphones and this method is especially useful because it's accurate and most people today carry a cellphone with them at all times.
  2. One popular compass program is Compass from
  3. Input your latitude and longitude or the airport code for the nearest airport and make sure the phone has the correct time, and the program will show where the sun and moon is relative to north.
  4. Simply orient the sun or moon on the display with it's real life counterpart and the compass will show the correct directions.

Using a Digital Camera

When the stars are visible in sky it is possible to determine the true celestial north or south by taking a long exposure photograph of the stars, that captures the movement of the stars across the sky - This is called a star trail photograph.

The star trails will circle around the axis of rotation of whatever celestial body the photograph was taken from - For most Wikihow readers this will be the planet Earth. The axis of rotation on a planet or planetoid determines its true celestial north and south, so by finding the center the star trail circle around, one will have found true north or south.

You will need :

  1. A digital SLR camera with the ability to take long exposure shoots of at least 4 minutes in length.
  2. A tripod or something sturdy to rest the camera on
  3. A wide-angle lens to cover as much of the sky as possible
  4. A shutter release cable or a remote control
  • It helps to have Mirror Lock-up enabled if possible to reduce in-camera vibration.
  • It is possible to take star trail photographs with film cameras too, but since you would have to wait to get the film developed, it is extremely unpractical to use a film camera to find true north.
  • Usually only Digital SLR camera have the ability to take long exposures lasting over 30 seconds, so a compact camera will most likely not work.
  1. Mount the wide-angle lens on the camera and zoom it to its widest setting
  2. Secure the camera on the tripod or rest it on something sturdy , pointing the camera in the direction you estimate north or south to be in, while trying to cover as much of the sky as you can - If possible include a little of the horizon.
  3. Set the camera to take a very long exposure photograph of at least 4 minutes - The longer exposure you use , the longer the star trails will be, making it easier to determine the center of rotation and thereby true north or south.
  4. Take the photograph - To be usable the camera must remain perfectly still throughout the exposure, so it is highly recommended to use a shutter release cable or a remote control to take the photograph.
  • The disadvantages of this technique are that it requires a clear sky, somewhat expensive photographic gear and time to setup the camera and take the long exposure shoot.
  • The advantages are that it is always perfectly accurate, it works on any celestial body (so even astronauts can use it), and it produces very stunning and beautiful photographs


  • These methods may require practice to perfect, so it's a good idea to try them a couple times when you can check your readings. That way, you'll be able to rely on them if you're in a survival situation.
  • Another method is to point your right hand towards the rising sun and your left hand to the setting sun. You will be facing north.


  • The shadow-tip methods are not recommended in the polar regions, which are latitudes above 60° in either hemisphere. At sunrise or sunset near the time of a solstice (worst case scenario), the error in this method is approximately 23, 24, 25, 27, 31, 38, and 53 degrees for latitudes (north or south) of 0, 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 and 60 degrees, respectively.
  • The watch method is not recommended in lower latitudes, particularly below 20° in either hemisphere.
  • Due to standardized time zones, the sun can reach its highest point somewhere between 11:00 and 13:00, depending on your place in the world. Some timezones are more than an hour wide.


Amsterdam is 5° east of the zero meridian, so the Sun reaches its highest point 20 minutes before London. As Amsterdam is one timezone ahead, that makes it 12:40h, or 13:40h during summer.

  • The North Star becomes higher in the sky the further north you travel, and it is not useful about 70° N latitude. Also when trying to locate the North Star it is important to remember that, despite popular belief, the North Star is NOT the brightest star in the sky. The only remarkable thing about it is that it is the only star in the sky that does not move.

Set up stick and mark first shadow-tip as above. For this method, take your first reading in the morning, at least an hour or so before midday.

This method will allow you to find two times centered approximately on midday. The marks you make will be on that part of the west to east shadow arc mentioned in method #1A that produces the best accuracy.

  1. Find an object or length of string, etc., exactly the same length as the shadow.
  2. Continue taking measurements of the shadow's length every 10-20 minutes. The shadow will shrink until midday, when it is at its shortest. Then it will gradually grow longer.
  3. Measure the shadow length as the shadow grows. Use the stick or object you used to measure the length of the initial shadow. When the shadow grows to exactly the same length as the stick (and hence exactly the same length as your first measurement), mark the spot.
  4. Draw a line connecting the first and second marks as above. Once again, this is your east-west line, and if you stand with the first mark on your left and the second on your right, you will be facing in the approximate direction of true north. (Note: for highest accuracy, your two marks need to be made at exact intervals before and after noon where you are, which means when the sun is at its highest point in the sky. Deviations from this will lead to some small inaccuracy.)

Watch Method: Northern Hemisphere

The Shadow-tip method
      1. The Shadow-tip method
  1. Find an analog watch (the kind with hour and minute hands) that is set accurately. Place it on a level surface, such as the ground, or hold it horizontal in your hand.Point the hour hand at the sun. You can use a stick to cast a shadow to aid in your alignment if you wish, but it is not necessary.
  2. Bisect (that is, find the center point of) the angle between the hour hand and the twelve o'clock mark (the number 12 on the watch). The center of the angle between the hour hand and twelve o'clock mark is the north-south line. If you don't know which way is north and which south, just remember that no matter where you are, the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. In the northern hemisphere the sun is due south at midday. If your watch is set to daylight saving time bisect the angle between the hour hand and the one o'clock mark instead.
  3. If you have a 24h dial on your clock (like many pilot watches), then just point the hour hand at the sun, and north is at the 0/24h mark.
  4. In the night, you can use the shape of the moon to estimate where the sun is, and use the same method. If there is full moon, the sun is in the opposite direction. The guestimate of the sun position influences the precision.

Watch Method: Southern Hemisphere

  1. Use an analog watch as above, and point the watches twelve o'clock mark (the number 12) toward the sun. If your watch is set to daylight savings time, point the one o'clock mark toward the sun.
  2. Bisect the angle between the twelve o'clock mark (or one o'clock mark if using daylight saving time) and the hour hand to find the north-south line. If you're unsure which way is north, remember that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west no matter where you are. In the southern hemisphere, however, the sun is due north at midday.

Using the Stars: Northern Hemisphere

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    1. Locate the North Star (Polaris) in the night sky. The North Star is the last star in the handle of the Little Dipper constellation. If you have trouble finding it, find the Big Dipper. The two lowest stars in the Big Dipper (the outermost stars of the cup of the dipper) form a straight line that "points" to the North Star (if you imagine the distance between the two lowest stars as being x, the north star will be a distance of 4x away in the direction that the two lowest stars point). You may also find the constellation Cassiopeia, which is always opposite the Big Dipper. The North Star is located about midway between the central star of Cassiopeia and the Big Dipper (see figure).
  1. Draw an imaginary line straight down from the North Star to the ground. This direction is true north, and if you can find a landmark in the distance at this point, you can use it to guide yourself.

Using the Stars: Southern Hemisphere

  1. Find the Southern Cross constellation. In the southern hemisphere, the North Star is not visible, and no single star always indicates north or south, but you can use the Southern Cross as your guide. This constellation is formed by five stars, and the four brightest stars form a cross that is angled to one side.Identify the two stars that make up the long axis of the cross. These stars form a line which "points" to an imaginary point in the sky which is above the South Pole. Follow the imaginary line down from the two stars five times the distance between them.
  2. Draw an imaginary line from this point to the ground, and try to identify a corresponding landmark to steer by. Since this is true south, true north is directly opposite it (behind you as you are looking at the point).
  3. Another method using the Southern Cross is to also find the Pointers. This is a pair of stars that point toward the southern cross in a fairly straight line.
  4. As above, find the two stars that make up the long axis of the Southern Cross. As well, look at the Pointers, imagine a line between them. Find the point in the middle of this line, and draw an imaginary line from that point at a right angle to the line.
  5. Where the line from the Southern Cross and the Pointers meet is true south, so again true north is directly opposite.

Using the stars version 2

  1. Find two nice straight sticks. make sure that one stick is longer than the other by about 5 or 6 inches, or the length from the tip of your middle finger to where your palm meets your wrist.
  2. Locate an area where you have a clear view of the stars and insert the longest stick into the ground in front of you. make sure it is secure enough so that it will not move.
  3. Now choose a star and insert the short stick so that the tips of the sticks line up with your selected star. Again, the narrower the tips of the sticks are, the easier it will be to align them. Repeat this process for two or more other stars which are about 45 degrees on either side of the first star. Pick stars which will be easy to locate again when you come back in 15 to 30 minutes.
  4. Now you wait several minutes, maintain your fire, find some food, whatever. after a while, return to your sticks, make sure NOT to disturb them! Locate your selected stars. Again, view the sticks so that their tips align, and based on which way your stars moved you can determine North.
  5. Here is a key to help you determine based on where your star moved, which way is north. If the star rises, you are facing more toward the east. If the star falls, you are facing more toward the west. If the star moves right or left, then you are facing more toward the north and/or south (you can't tell which). Combine your observations to decide which way is approximately north. Keep in mind, these will not give you magnetic north like a compass, but will give you the general direction of north.
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