Make a Sun Compass

Never lose your way again with this super-simple sun compass!

Whether in the backwoods or the backyard, a sun compass is a fun and simple way to use the sun to tell what direction is north.

For best results, start making your sun compass before noon, when the sun is still at an angle, not directly overhead. Though designed with kids in mind, this project from Wilderness Adventure Camp is a perfect survival skill for the whole family to learn.

What you need:

  • 2 sticks
  • Knife (to sharpen one of the sticks)
  • 4 small rocks or other markers
  • Sun

What to do:

storey-Make a Sun Compass-What to do-01
  • Cut a stick about 3 feet long and sharpen one end of it. Drive the stick into the ground in a flat, sunny spot.
  • Locate the very tip of the shadow and mark it with a stick or small rock.
  • Repeat step 2 every 15 minutes, three more times. You should now have four points marked on the ground. Make a line through the four points. This is your east-west line.
  • Lay another straight stick at a right angle to your east-west line, pointing away from the shadow-making stick. This line points straight north (if you are in the Northern Hemisphere).

The sun moves east to west, but shadows are like reflections in the mirror. Each new shadow marker, therefore, will be to the east of the previous marker. Depending on the contrast of the shadow, the time of day, the ground texture, or the shape of your stick, deciding precisely where the shadow stops may be tricky. You can lay something on the ground to help you see the shadow better: a light-colored shirt, a piece of birch bark or paper, even your hand.

Excerpted from Wilderness Adventure Camp © 2021 by Frank Grindrod. Illustration © Steve Sanford.

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Frank Grindrod

About the Author

Frank Grindrod is a wilderness survival instructor, a public speaker, and an expedition leader who has been featured on ABC's Chronicle, as well as on MassLive and other local New England TV and radio. He has led trips in Alaska, the Rocky Mountains, and the Florida Everglades. He has also been an adjunct faculty member at Smith College and the University of Georgia, where he taught wilderness survival courses. Grindrod is the owner of Earthwork Programs in New England and, over the last 20 years, he has trained thousands of people to become more capable in the wild.

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