Find Your Way Using The Sun – A Must Have Skill

Doug Williams

We all like to know where we are and where we’re going in the world. Particularly if you’re out and about and you want to find your way.

These days mobile phones have taken the place of compasses and GPS, which, while convenient, isn’t always the best option because they break or run out of juice.

If you’ve got nothing else to work with you usually have the sun which while not the most accurate, it’s accurate enough to get your bearings and it’s been used forever by people the world over, so it works!


Because of the orientation of the earth to the sun, it appears that the sun rises in the East and sets in the West. This is not completely accurate as it will vary by some degrees from season to season, but it’s generally accurate enough for basic navigation.

If you stand with your arms outstretched with your right hand pointing to where the sun comes up (the sunrise) and your left arm facing towards to where the sun goes down (sunset), you will be facing more or less in a northerly direction, so your back will be facing South, your right hand East and your Left hand West.

Sunset – West – Left hand
Sunset – West – Left hand

In summer at midday in the Northern hemisphere, if you are further than 23 degrees North, the sun will be a bit to the South of you. A shadow will, therefore, fall to the front of you, or in other words, the front of your body will be in the shade. You will then be facing in the direction of North, and again, South will be at your back, East to your right and West to your left.

If you are in an area where there are hills and mountains, snow and vegetation will provide you with some clues. Because the sun is somewhat to the South of your position at midday, you will notice that the slopes facing North will naturally be cooler, get less sun and be somewhat damper than South facing slopes. In areas where there is snow, the snow is likely to remain on the North slopes for longer.

The old story of moss growing on the North of tree trunks in the Northern hemisphere can be unreliable and the best way of getting a heading without a compass is to determine the direction of the sunrise.


Ultimately the best way to navigate is with a compass and a map, it’s well worth learning the skills to do this, it’s simple, straight forward and reliable.

When you go hiking and adventuring in the great outdoors it’s always best to carry the tools you need with you, but there are times that you get caught out or there’s an emergency situation and that’s where your personal skills and knowledge are invaluable

An interesting exercise would be to try the non-compass methods and then use the compass to check their accuracy; then you’ll get an idea of how well it works.


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fmssolution is one of the authors writing for Outdoor Revival