Finding Directional Points Using Just the Sun

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Finding Directional Points

Steven C. Beer is an attorney and partner with Franklin Weinrib Rudell and Vassallo in New York City. When he is not working, Steven C. Beer enjoys staying active by hiking.

A compass and a map are two essential items for any hike. However, individuals should know how to handle themselves in the great outdoors should they find themselves bereft of either tool. The sun is one of the most valuable resources when it comes to navigating without a map or compass.

The sun only rises due east twice a year, so hikers must understand that there is more to reading direction based on the sun than following its trajectory through the sky. In June, the sun tends to rise from the northeast, while the sun will rise closer to southeast as the winter solstice draws nearer. However, following the sun’s path should generally lead hikers from east to west.

As the sun reaches its midday positioning in the sky, it can be difficult to determine in which direction it is headed. In order to overcome this obstacle, hikers can drive a stick in the ground and trace the arc of the stick’s shortest shadow. The arc will create a perfect north-south line, as defined by the point of the arc closest to the stick. With a perfect north-south line and an understanding of the sun’s east-to-west trajectory, hikers should be able to establish all four directional points even without a compass or map.