Other Methods of Finding Direction (MGRS)

There are other methods of finding your direction when you do not have a compass. Several of these methods include the—

  • Shadow-tip field-expedient method.
  • Watch method.
  • Star method.

Shadow-Tip Field-Expedient Method

The old rule that “the sun rises in the east and sets in the west” is a pretty good rule, but it is not quite right. Very seldom does the sun lie due east (exactly 90 degrees) or due west (exactly 270 degrees) on the horizon. Where exactly it does rise and set depends on where you are on the earth’s surface and also on what time of year it is. In the morning, the sun rises almost east and in the afternoon it sets almost west. However, you can still use the sun to find direction by using the shadow-tip field-expedient method. This method is quick, easy, and very accurate. The image below illustrates how to do it in three simple steps.

Step 1. Place a stick or branch in the ground at a level spot where a distinctive shadow will be cast. Mark the shadow tip with a stone, twig, or other means. This first shadow mark is always west.

Step 2. Wait 10 to 15 minutes until the shadow tip moves a few inches. Mark the new position of the shadow tip in the same way as the first. This second shadow mark is always east.

Step 3. Draw a straight line through the two shadow-tip marks to obtain an approximate west-east line.

Now, to determine your north-south line, stand with the first mark (west) to your left. The other directions are north to the front, east to the right, and south behind you.

Remember to place your stick vertically into the ground. Mark the tip of each shadow. The first tip is always west and the second tip is always east. Draw a north-south line perpendicular to the west-east line.

Watch Method

You can use your watch to determine the approximate true north and true south. However, it is not as accurate as the shadow-tip method.

In the North temperate zone, point the hour hand toward the sun. Your south line is midway between the hour hand and 1200 hours, standard time. If on daylight saving time, the north-south line is found between the hour hand and 1300 hours.

This method is different in the South temperate zone. Point the 1200 hour toward the sun, and midway between the 1200 hour and the hour hand will be your north line. If on daylight saving time, the north line lies midway between the hour hand and 1300 hours.

NOTE: If there is any doubt as to which end of the line is north, remember that the sun is in the east before noon and in the west after noon.

Star Method

At night, you can locate north by finding the North Star, Polaris. First, find the Big Dipper. The last two stars of the dipper’s cup point directly at Polaris—about 5 times as far out as the distance between those two stars. Facing Polaris, you are looking north, with east on your right and west on your left.

Once you are able to find north (using your compass, the sun, your watch, or the stars), you are then ready to locate your position on the map. There are many good ways to locate your position on the map. First, do one important thing— orient your map.

NOTE: Your map must be oriented so that north, south, east, and west on the map point the same way as they do on the ground.



[Continue to Finding Your Position]

**Information adapted from the United States
(U.S.) Army Training Support Centers (TSCs)
Graphic Training Aid (GTA) GTA 05-02-013,
How To Avoid Getting Lost.