Land navigation is a must-have skill if you have little “built-in” sense of direction.  Even if determining your sense of direction comes very natural to you, we personally think you can never develop this skill too much.  While using a map and compass or even a GPS is incredibly useful, there are also several ways to get a good general sense of direction without any of those tools.  One of those is to simply use your watch, in relation to the sun.

Most everyone that ventures outdoors knows this can be done, but it is one of those skills that others have repeatedly told us that it is easy to forget.  We wanted to put this short video together and show how to do this in a few easy steps.

  • Step 1. Find the sun (this should not be too hard unless there is alot of cloud cover).
  • Step 2. Point the hour hand (that is the little one) at the sun.
  • Step 3.  Determine the line that intersects the halfway point between the hour hand and the number 12 on your watch.
  • Step 4.  That line is pointing due South.

Now keep in mind this works for us in the northern hemisphere, (for the southern hemisphere do the same thing and that line will be pointing north).  Please note that you could also make some adjustments for daylight savings time.  Since I do not feel as if this method is an exact science, those changes are not of great consequence to me.  This method is there for us to ONLY get general sense of direction.

In this video I have most assuredly done the corniest job ever of an introduction.  Please forgive me on that.  It was very cold, and I wasn’t thinking clearly when I made the decision to go with this intro.  I try to have fun on these videos.


You can also do the same thing with a digital watch.  Simply mark or note on the dial of your watch where the hour hand would be if it was analog and go through the same steps.

Hope it helps you not get lost on your next adventure.  Either way, I hope to see you on, or off, the trail.


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19 Responses

  1. slywlf

    AhhA! I had heard about this method for years but since I don’t wear a watch I never followed up on how it works. Your note on how to do it even with a digital watch means a watch is not – in and of itself – actually necessary! With a little creativity the top (or bottom) of my stainless water bottle would serve the same purpose 😉

    Oh, I forgot to mention – I generally have my cell phone with me, usually off, so I can use that to get the time 😉

  2. Rebecca L Gray

    Now do one that I remember from by son’s Boy Scout days: Hold up your hand at arms’ length in the afternoon and count the number of fingers between the sun and the horizon. The number of fingers tells you how long until dusk. My problem is I don’t remember what each finger stands for: an hour? A half hour?
    I remember it worked when we were camping and is really useful if you have to know when to stop hiking and start setting up camp so you aren’t looking for shelter in the dark.
    Now to get my grandsons analog instead of digital watches.

    • c.caudill

      You can do the same thing with a digital watch just imagine where the hour hand would be in relation to the time….it will work the same way..:)

  3. Bryan

    i’m glad you added the comment about the digital watch see how it is a simple but could be crucial piece to overlook

  4. Ernie B

    This is pretty cool. Never knew about it. Usually dont wear a watch but now I got a reason too.

  5. Jessica

    This tips really helpful. I thought a watch was only for time but also for directions. Great job Sir!

  6. Tim

    Does it matter if it’s morning or evening? If the small hand points to the rising sun at, say, 5 am, and the same for 5 pm, doesn’t this change the direction of norht and south on the watch?

    • David S

      Tim, it does not change North and South.
      If it is 5 am your watch is pointing at a different spot in the sky than if you are at 5 pm. The sun will be at a different position.
      It will still show you where South and North are in the sky

      • Nomads308

        No, Tim was right. You have to adjust for am or pm.

  7. DR. Wilkins

    Even if you are using a Digital watch you can still use this method. Everyone knows where the numbers are on a watch i hope. So all you need to do is read the time and than position the what as if the hands are on the watch.
    Same principle, just take a bit more practice.
    I always suggest that if you purchase a digital watch you should buy on with a rotating ring with either a compass ring or number ring.
    I hope this helps.

  8. Theresa

    Do you really need anything but your body. Face toward the sun, extend your left arm straight out from your bodies side, determine the midpoint between your arm and face. That’s south!

  9. Randy

    I assume your example is using 8:15 pm. sorry, looking at the wrong photo when i commented.


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