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
What to do:
- 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.