How to Tell Which Direction Is North?

A compass is the most accurate way to find a direction.
A compass is the most accurate way to find a direction. (Image: Thinkstock/Comstock/Getty Images)

Finding which direction is north is not as complicated as it seems. Your task will be simplified if you have a compass, but finding north without one is possible, too. If you're lost or on a wilderness survival adventure, the ability to find north is crucial. A compass gives you an exact direction, while the other methods aren't as accurate.

Things You'll Need

  • Compass
  • Sticks (2)
  • String

Using a compass

Place your compass on a flat surface. Any slant will affect the integrity, or accuracy, of your reading.

Observe the compass needle. The end of the needle that points to true north is generally red.

Line up the red end of the compass needle with the North marking on your compass.

By the stars

Locate the Big Dipper constellation during a clear night. The Big Dipper looks like a ladle.

You can navigate and find directions by using the stars.
You can navigate and find directions by using the stars. (Image: Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images)

Locate the last two stars of Big Dipper's "cup." These stars, Dubhe and Merak, point straight toward Polaris, the North Star. It is roughly five times as far away as the distance between the two stars. Polaris is the last star in the Little Dipper's "handle."

Face Polaris, and you'll be facing north. South will lie behind you, west will be to your left, and east will be to your right. The Southern Cross is used to find south in the Southern Hemisphere.

Sun Shadow

Place a two-foot-long stick into the ground. The ground should be flat so you can observe shadows easily. Mark the shadow of the stick with a string, twig or pebble.

Mark shadows to find north.
Mark shadows to find north. (Image: Jupiterimages/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images)

Wait at least 30 minutes, then place another stick in the ground. Mark the shadow for this stick as well.

Draw a straight line between the two shadows. These lines mark east and west. To tell which is which, remember that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. The first shadow you marked is west and the second is east.

Mark a perpendicular line across your east-west line. The ends of this line will represent north and south.

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