website tracker
  kayaks on the San Juan river near Mexican Hat, UtahSplit Level ruin in Grand Gulch, Cedar Mesa, Utahpictographs, Quail Panel detail, Grand Gulch, Utahgoosenecks of the San Juan riverSan Juan river near Clay Hills takeout, Utahgraneries, unnamed canyon, Cedar Mesa, Utah  


Site Information

Trip Guides
Words of Caution
Going Ultralight
Desert Gear
River Gear
Homemade Gear
Gear Reviews
Survival Kit
Survival Knives
Primitive Skills
Making Fire
Water & Hydration
Maps & Navigation
Backpack Foods
Photo Gallery
Rock Art
Trees and Plants
Desert Links
Book Store
Gear Shop
Wilderness Kids
Expedition Vehicle
Desert Inspired
May, 1998 Manhunt
About Us
Contact Us







Maps and Navigation- Chapter 6-
Field Expedient Direction Finding


Shadow Tip Method

This method of expedient direction finding is useful if you do not have access to a compass. It will give you accurate north-south and east-west lines.

Begin by locating a level section of ground free from obstructions. Place a straight, 3 foot long stick in the soil as near vertical as possible. Mark the position of the stick’s end some time before mid-day. Watch as the line becomes shorter as the sun nears its mid-day high point. This location should be marked as well. A line drawn from the first mark to the second mark will give you an east-west bearing. A line from the point marked at the shadow’s shortest, mid-day location to the base of the stick will give you a north-south bearing.

Using the Sun While Moving

The sun can be used as an indicator of general direction while moving. Remember that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. Being familiar with the angle of the sun as it varies throughout the year is useful as well.

You should already be familiar with where the sun has risen and where it set the night before at you location. Keep this in mind and watch the sun throughout the day as you move across the ground. As an example, if you are moving northward, the sun should rise to your right, cross overhead at mid-day, and set to your left. If you are navigating northward in the month of December the sun will be low, behind you, and remain at you back even at mid-day.

Using the Moon and Stars

Polaris, or the North Star, can be used for night time navigation. It barely deviates from its position at true north throughout the year. To locate Polaris, first locate the Big Dipper. Using the distance between the two stars on the outside of the dipper as a reference, extend a line through them from the top side of the dipper. Measure out about 5 times the distance of the two stars. Here you should find Polaris.

The moon can be used for navigation in the same way as the sun. Note where it rises and where it sets. Note its position to you as you move across the ground.


Land navigation is an essential skill for anyone venturing off the beaten path. To become proficient in land navigation requires practice. Begin by studying this pamphlet thoroughly. Get to know your equipment, your compass and map. Familiarize yourself with navigation before you take to the woods.

Once you are in the woods, break yourself in slowly. With your map and compass in hand, study terrain features, contours, azimuths and distances. Find terrain features on the map and match them to the ground. Walk up a valley and note the stream running down it. Find a saddle and stand in the middle of it noting how the terrain rises on both sides. Be aware of your compass the entire time, be aware of the cardinal directions, keep an eye on the sun and the direction it is traveling. If you take this approach to learning navigation it will come to you easily and eventually become second nature.

Suggested Reading/ Bibliography

The following are but a few of the hundreds of sources available on the subject of land navigation. Visit your local library, outdoor store, or book store for more information.

Department of The Army, Map Reading and Land Navigation, FM 21-26. Headquarters, Department of The Army, Washington, D.C., 1987.

Humphrey, V.W. and T.G. Stroup The Orienteering Handbook. The United States Army Infantry School, Fort Benning, Georgia, 1971.

Kals, W.S. The Land Navigation Handbook. Sierra Club Books, San Francisco, 1983.

United States Army Infantry School, The The Fundamentals of Map Reading. The United States Army Infantry School, Fort Benning, Georgia, 1973.

Back to Top

All Content © 2006- 2010-