Being able to find your way is crucial for outdoor activities and bushcraft is no exception. Whilst many mobile phones and devices have GPS capabilities, I still prefer an old fashioned map and compass. But what if you lose or break your compass? How then would you find your way. There are many techniques you can use to find which way is north, such as using your watch. Here though, I want to show how shadow stick navigation works. The photo below was taken at about 3:30pm at the end of March.
How shadow stick navigation works
Put a stick in the ground in a sunny spot. I put this one in the field adjacent our ancient woodland camp at around 2:30pm (you could use a telegraph pole or even yourself to create a shadow, just mark where you stood). Use a stone to mark where the end of the shadow created comes to – this is the top circle in the photo below. The middle circle marks where the shadow ended at 3pm and the bottom circle marks the end of the shadow at 3:30. Three is probably a minimum for getting an accurate bearing.
If you draw an imaginary line through the centres of the stones you get an east/west direction. Because the sun rises in the east the first marker will always be at the western end of the imaginary line.
The sun casts its longest shadow when it first rises and again just before sunset. The shadow cast is shortest when the sun is directly overhead, at midday, when the shadow cast will be pointing due north.
You can see from where the stones are placed in the photos that the shadows cast have become longer. This means that if you place your stones at regular intervals they will get closer together as midday approaches and then further apart again after midday. But note, the midday I refer to here is not going to be when your watch says 12 noon, it’s the half way point between sunrise and sunset, true midday instead of our artificially created one.
Add a line at 90º and you have north/south.