How To Find True North

Living life to the fullest means losing your way every now and again. After all, sticking to the script and staying inside the boundaries of a map means missing out on all of the adventures out there waiting for you. When it’s time for you to get back on track, remember the tips below to reliably find north so you can keep on keepin’ on.


If the sun is high in the sky, find a stick a couple of feet in length and stick it straight into the ground. Place a rock or some other object that will stay put at the end of the shadow the stick casts. Wait about 15 minutes and use another object to mark the end of the shadow. Stand with your back to the stick, the front of your left toe touching the first object and the front of your right toe touching the second. Congratulations. You’re now facing true north.


If you happen to have a metal needle on you (maybe you were traveling with a sewing kit or, marginally more likely, a first-aid kit), and a puddle of water nearby, this method of getting your bearings is fairly simple. In truth, you don’t necessarily need something labeled “needle” in bold letters—a bent paper clip or stripped piece of wire could also do in a pinch. Take a scrap of wool or silk (hopefully you have some clothing you can rip) and rub it from end-to-end on your needle about 100 times to magnetize it. Place the needle on a leaf or something else that is buoyant and place that on the water’s surface. The needle should point to either true north or true south—there’s no way to tell which end points to which, so look for the sun (if it is out) which always rises in the east and sets in the west. You should be able to orient yourself north using both the sun and the needle.


A clear night with the stars visible is a dream come true to anyone looking for north. If you’re north of the equator (and you really should know that without any special skills), look for the Big Dipper. You can usually find it about a third of the way up from the horizon. The bright star on the top right corner of the cradle part of the Big Dipper is the North Star, which shows the way north. If you’re Down Under (or in New Zealand or anywhere else in the Southern Hemisphere), find the constellation known as the Southern Cross (start by spotting the two bright stars near it known as The Pointers) and then extend the axis of the Cross in your mind’s eye toward the horizon. That’s true south, which orients you just as well true north does.

This post was derived from “The Official Handybook for Men” by James Ellis. For more handy tips, you can purchase the book from our online store.