We live in a world in which we can pull our phone out of our pocket and pull up GPS or Google Maps to find out where we are and where we’re going. This is great and easy enough to do most of the time but the problem with this technology is that it relies on power to work and in the wilderness, there are no plug sockets to keep it powered up.
Today we want to show you an easy method of using your wrist watch as a compass.
Which Hemisphere Are You In?
The first step is to find out which Hemisphere you’re actually in. This is important as the steps will be different if you are in the Northern Hemisphere than they would be if you were in the Southern Hemisphere. The sun will be in different positions and we need to use this to find our way. This is usually really simple if you know which country you are in.
- All points of Earth that are north of the equator are in the Northern Hemisphere. This includes all of North America and Europe, along with most of Asia, northern South America, and northern Africa.
- All points on Earth that are south of the equator are in the Southern Hemisphere. This includes Australia, Antarctica, most of South America, and southern Africa.
Obviously, if you are in the wilderness and have no technology available to find out which Hemisphere you are in, you can use the North Star to help you decide.
If you’re in the Northern Hemisphere, the North Star will be visible when you look for it. However, if you’re in the Southern Hemisphere, you won’t be able to see the North Star.
If you need help locating which direction is north and you’re in a place where moss grows, look for moss growing. It typically grows on the north side of trees because this side receives less sun throughout the day. If you’re in the southern hemisphere, moss will tend to grow on the south side of trees.
How to Use a Watch as a Compass in the Northern Hemisphere
Take off your watch and lay it out flat on the palm of your hand with the face up. Now, you need to turn your body until your body, your watch, and the hour hand of the watch are all pointing directly at the sun. The time on the watch itself doesn’t matter as long as the time is accurate. If you’re having problems lining the hour hand up with the sun directly, observe the direction of your shadow. Your body will cast a shadow that you can set inline with your watch’s hour hand as you would the sun.
To find South, bisect the angle between 12 o’clock and your watch’s hour hand. You’re looking for the middle angle, and this can be tricky. If your watch is showing a time before noon, you’ll have to measure the angle clockwise from your hour hand to the 12 o’clock mark. If it’s after 12 o’clock, you’ll have to measure the angle counterclockwise. Once you find the middle angle, you’ve found South, and the direction straight across from it is North. During daylight savings time, substitute 1 o’clock for 12 o’clock before you look for the angle.
So, if your watch reads 5pm and the hour hand is correctly lined up with the sun, South sould be right between 2 o’clock and 3 o’clock. North would be between 8 o’clock and 9 o’clock.
How to Use a Watch as a Compass in the Southern Hemisphere
There is just one major difference between using your watch as a compass in the Southern Hemisphere and using it in the Northern Hemisphere.
- Remove your watch and lay it flat out on the palm of your hand with the face up
- Turn your watch and body until you find the sun
- This time, line up the 12 o’clock with the sun instead of the hour hand.
- If you’re having trouble lining the 12 o’clock mark with the sun, observe your body’s shadow. The shadow will be inline with the sun and you can point your watch accordingly.
Next, bisect the angle between the sun and your watch’s hour hand. The exact angle of this point will be North, and the point directly across from it is South. So if it is 9 o’clock in the morning and you’ve lined your watch’s 12 o’clock mark up with the sun, halfway between 10 and 11 o’clock would be North. South would be direct across from this between the 4 and 5 o’clock mark. During daylight savings time, substitute 1 o’clock for 12 o’clock before you look for the angle.
What to Remember
You need to remember that the sun will not always be at the highest point at 12 o’clock which means that this technique can only ever be used as an approximate guide, not exact.
If it is a cloudy day, it will obviously be harder to line up the hands of your watch. In this case, hold a stick up over a light patch on the ground and look for the shadow. Use this shadow to line up your watch.