The Compass That You Didn’t Realize That You Have

Have you ever been lost? I mean really lost as in not having any idea where you are beyond some general vague notion that you are somewhere in this part of your state? It’s a scary feeling.

Now, if you’re like most people, you’re likely not overly worried about getting lost. After all, most people live in areas of some population where getting lost is not an issue, and, if they do get turned around, they can just pull up a map program with GPS on their smartphone.

But how would you feel if you were out in the woods and your smartphone battery dies? What would you do then?

Well, if you’ve taken a little time to be prepared, you don’t panic. You pull out a compass. If you don’t have a compass handy, you pull out the next best thing to figure our your direction: an analog watch (Sometimes, survival is not about the fancy gadgets but about practical use of simple things that you already have on hand.).

Yes, it’s true, an analog watch can be used with a compass if you can get an idea of where the sun is and the time of day (so, no, this won’t work underground. Sorry.).

First of all, you have to remember that the sun rises in the East and sets in the West. So, if you know that it is in the morning hours, you know that the sun is in the East. Conversely, if it is late afternoon, the sun will be more towards the western part of the sky.

For the purpose of this example, let’s assume that it is around 10:00 in the morning. As the sun is in the East, you’ll want to point the 3:00 time setting on your analog watch towards the sun. You will then know that the 12:00 time on your analog watch will give you a general idea of which direction is North. From this information, assuming that you know which direction that you need to go, you can begin to move in the direction in which lies your destination.

Conversely, in late afternoon, you’ll want to point the 9:00 time setting on your watch towards the sun, and, in this way, the 12:00 time setting will still give you a good idea of which way is North.

Hopefully, you’ll then have an idea of which direction will take you to your destination so that you can get to a place of safety.


  • Gary S

    So, if you can see the sun, and know if it is A.M or P.M, point your nose at the sun.
    A.M. your left ear is about North. P.M. your right ear is about North.
    (If it is Noon in the Northern Hem., the back of your head is North. Southern Hem.,you are facing North.)
    Or another suggestion: See which way the sun is moving. It always moves West.

  • Frederick Douglass

    If you stick a stick in the ground so it leaves no shadow and then wait until a shadow forms the shadow will be to the east at any time of day. In fact if your city trained eyes can’t find stars to navigate by in the sky crowded with stars far from the city it works by moonlight as well but just as easy to watch the sky at the horizon ans see which way the stars appear to move.

    • Bill Atkeison

      before noon, the stick’s shadow will be to the west side … after noon, it will be to the east … around noon, the stick’s shadow will be north of the stick …
      these are approximate directions but close enough in most instances …

      • Frederick Douglass

        Reread what I wrote you moron. If you point the stick at the sun when you stick it in the ground it does not have a shadow until after the sun moves and then the shadow will be to the east.

  • Hugh

    There is a much more accurate method using the watch (taught by Air Force survival instructors). Point an imaginary hour hand from a 24 hour watch face to the sun and 12 o’clock midnight position (straight up) on the watch face will be pointing north. So, if it is 9:00 AM the imaginary hour hand would be at 4:30 on a real watch face; 12:00 noon on the 24 hour face would equal 6:00 on the real face.

    • Ricochet

      His directions aren’t quite correct anyway. You point the hour hand at the sun, and south is halfway between there and 12:00 on a 12-hour clock face. Depending on whether it’s evening or morning and what the hour is, you might find north that way instead of south, but south would be kind of towards the sun and north would be away from it (in the northern hemisphere), so it’s easy to make that distinction. Trying to follow his directions would have your “south” moving all around depending on where the sun actually is.

  • Richard Knack

    Not only that, but if you use a watch with a mechanical movement, and remember to wind it every day, you never have to worry about it quitting at an inconvenient moment (I’ve had quartz watches do this). My everyday watch is a late Soviet era Vostok “Amphibia” diver watch, with a 2409 17 jewel antimagnetic movement, waterproof to 300 meters. Bought used online for $25. Brand new ones are still being made, with a larger movement and calendar window (which from what I have read can be a bit of a pain to set). Is built like T34 tank, komrade! 😀