|Before proceeding, please review Important
Disclaimers about the information, resources & links contained in
this website. The information provided below is for basic reference only
and is not intended to be professional instruction.
CHAPTER 18 - FIELD-EXPEDIENT DIRECTION FINDING
In a survival situation, you will be extremely
fortunate if you happen to have a map and compass. If you do have these two
pieces of equipment, you will most likely be able to move toward help. If you
are not proficient in using a map and compass, you must take the steps to gain
There are several methods by which you can
determine direction by using the sun and the stars. These methods, however,
will give you only a general direction. You can come up with a more nearly
true direction if you know the terrain of the territory or country.
You must learn all you can about the terrain of
the country or territory to which you or your unit may be sent, especially any
prominent features or landmarks. This knowledge of the terrain together with
using the methods
explained below will let you come up with fairly true directions to help you
USING THE SUN
The earth's relationship to the sun can help you to
determine direction on earth. The sun always rises in the east and sets in the
west, but not exactly due east or due west. There is also some seasonal
variation. In the northern hemisphere, the sun will be due south when at its
highest point in the sky, or when an object casts no appreciable shadow. In the
southern hemisphere, this same noonday sun will mark due north. In the northern
hemisphere, shadows will move clockwise. Shadows will move counterclockwise in
the southern hemisphere. With practice, you can use shadows to determine both
direction and time of day. The shadow methods used for direction finding are the
shadow-tip and watch methods.
In the first shadow-tip method, find a straight
stick 1 meter long, and a level spot free of brush on which the stick will cast
a definite shadow. This method is simple and accurate and consists of four
- Step 1.
Place the stick or branch into the ground at a level spot where it will cast a
distinctive shadow. Mark the shadow's tip with a stone, twig, or other means.
This first shadow mark is always west--everywhere on earth.
- Step 2.
Wait 10 to 15 minutes until the shadow tip moves a few centimeters. Mark the
shadow tip's new position in the same way as the first.
- Step 3.
Draw a straight line through the two marks to obtain an approximate east-west
- Step 4.
Stand with the first mark (west) to your left and the second mark to your
right--you are now facing north. This fact is true everywhere on earth.
An alternate method is more accurate but requires
more time. Set up your shadow stick and mark the first shadow in the morning.
Use a piece of string to draw a clean arc through this mark and around the
stick. At midday, the shadow will shrink and disappear. In the afternoon, it
will lengthen again and at the point where it touches the arc, make a second
mark. Draw a line through the two marks to get an accurate east-west line (see Figure
The Watch Method
You can also determine direction using a common
or analog watch--one that has hands. The direction will be accurate if you are
using true local time, without any changes for daylight savings time. Remember,
the further you are from the equator, the more accurate this method will be. If
you only have a digital watch, you can overcome this obstacle. Quickly draw a
watch on a circle of paper with the correct time on it and use it to determine
your direction at that time.
In the northern hemisphere, hold the watch
horizontal and point the hour hand at the sun. Bisect the angle between the hour
hand and the 12 o'clock mark to get the north-south line (Figure
18-2). If there is any doubt as to which end of the line is north, remember
that the sun rises in the east, sets in the west, and is due south at noon. The
sun is in the east before noon and in the west after noon.
Note: If your watch is set on daylight savings
time, use the midway point between the hour hand and 1 o'clock to determine
the north-south line.
In the southern hemisphere, point the watch's 12
o'clock mark toward the sun and a midpoint halfway between 12 and the hour hand
will give you the north-south line (Figure 18-2).
USING THE MOON
Because the moon has no light of its own, we can
only see it when it reflects the sun's light. As it orbits the earth on its
28-day circuit, the shape of the reflected light varies according to its
position. We say there is a new moon or no moon when it is on the opposite side
of the earth from the sun. Then, as it moves away from the earth's shadow, it
begins to reflect light from its right side and waxes to become a full moon
before waning, or losing shape, to appear as a sliver on the left side. You can
use this information to identify direction.
If the moon rises before the sun has set, the
illuminated side will be the west. If the moon rises after midnight, the
illuminated side will be the east. This obvious discovery provides us with a
rough east-west reference during the night.
USING THE STARS
Your location in the Northern or Southern
Hemisphere determines which constellation you use to determine your north or
The Northern Sky
The main constellations to learn are the Ursa
Major, also known as the Big Dipper or the Plow, and Cassiopeia (Figure
18-3). Neither of these constellations ever sets. They are always visible on
a clear night. Use them to locate Polaris, also known as the polestar or the
North Star. The North Star forms part of the Little Dipper handle and can be
confused with the Big Dipper. Prevent confusion by using both the Big Dipper and
Cassiopeia together. The Big Dipper and Cassiopeia are always directly opposite
each. other and rotate counterclockwise around Polaris, with Polaris in the
center. The Big Dipper is a seven star constellation in the shape of a dipper.
The two stars forming the outer lip of this dipper are the "pointer
stars" because they point to the North Star. Mentally draw a line from the
outer bottom star to the outer top star of the Big Dipper's bucket. Extend this
line about five times the distance between the pointer stars. You will find the
North Star along this line.
Cassiopeia has five stars that form a shape like
a "W" on its side. The North Star is straight out from Cassiopeia's
After locating the North Star, locate the North
Pole or true north by drawing an imaginary line directly to the earth.
The Southern Sky
Because there is no star bright enough to be
easily recognized near the south celestial pole, a constellation known as the
Southern Cross is used as a signpost to the South (Figure
18-4). The Southern Cross or Crux has five stars. Its four brightest stars
form a cross that tilts to one side. The two stars that make up the cross's long
axis are the pointer stars. To determine south, imagine a distance five times
the distance between These stars and the point where this imaginary line ends is
in the general direction of south. Look down to the horizon from this imaginary
point and select a landmark to steer by. In a static survival situation, you can
fix this location in daylight if you drive stakes in the ground at night to
point the way.
You can construct improvised compasses using a
piece of ferrous metal that can be needle shaped or a flat double-edged razor
blade and a piece of nonmetallic string or long hair from which to suspend it.
You can magnetize or polarize the metal by slowly stroking it in one direction
on a piece of silk or carefully through your hair using deliberate strokes. You
can also polarize metal by stroking it repeatedly at one end with a magnet.
Always rub in one direction only. If you have a battery and some electric wire,
you can polarize the metal electrically. The wire should be insulated. If not
insulated, wrap the metal object in a single, thin strip of paper to prevent
contact. The battery must be a minimum of 2 volts. Form a coil with the electric
wire and touch its ends to the battery's terminals. Repeatedly insert one end of
the metal object in and out of the coil. The needle will become an
electromagnet. When suspended from a piece of nonmetallic string, or floated on
a small piece of wood in water, it will align itself with a north-south line.
You can construct a more elaborate improvised
compass using a sewing needle or thin metallic object, a nonmetallic container
(for example, a plastic dip container), its lid with the center cut out and
waterproofed, and the silver tip from a pen. To construct this compass, take an
ordinary sewing needle and break in half. One half will form your direction
pointer and the other will act as the pivot point. Push the portion used as the
pivot point through the bottom center of your container; this portion should be
flush on the bottom and not interfere with the lid. Attach the center of the
other portion (the pointer) of the needle on the pen's silver tip using glue,
tree sap, or melted plastic. Magnetize one end of the pointer and rest it on the
OTHER MEANS OF
The old saying about using moss on a tree to
indicate north is not accurate because moss grows completely around some trees.
Actually, growth is more lush on the side of the tree facing the south in the
Northern Hemisphere and vice versa in the Southern Hemisphere. If there are
several felled trees around for comparison, look at the stumps. Growth is more
vigorous on the side toward the equator and the tree growth rings will be more
widely spaced. On the other hand, the tree growth rings will be closer together
on the side toward the poles.
Wind direction may be helpful in some instances
where there are prevailing directions and you know what they are.
Recognizing the differences between vegetation
and moisture patterns on north- and south-facing slopes can aid in determining
direction. In the northern hemisphere, north-facing slopes receive less sun than
south-facing slopes and are therefore cooler and damper. In the summer,
north-facing slopes retain patches of snow. In the winter, the trees and open
areas on south-facing slopes are the first to lose their snow, and ground
snowpack is shallower.