Navigating and estimating time using the sun

Two little tricks I learned in Boy Scouts have stuck with me and I use quite often to help me gain my bearings and know how much sunlight is left in the day.

For navigation, if you live in the northern hemisphere, point the hour hand of your watch at the sun. Then figure out the halfway point between the hour hand and 12:00, that is South. The opposite then is North.

If you are in the southern hemisphere, you point the 12:00 at the sun and half way between that and the hour hand is North.

If you have  digital watch or just your cell phone with the time, note what time it is and imagine you are wearing an analog watch and then do the above calculations. 

This won’t be very accurate for orienteering, but it can help you at least know which direction you need to go in. For example if your friend says to meet them on the west side of the building and you don’t know where west is, this will help you.Navigate using the sun and a watch

Picture taken from this website.

The next little trick is how to tell how much sunlight is left in the day. This will help if you are needing to know how much time you have left to build a shelter, find food, or gather firewood by before it gets dark. Or even in our every day lives of when it will get dark and you should start heading home.

You stretch your hand out in front of you and place the sun at the top of your index finger. Every width of finger is going to be 15 minutes of sunlight. So if the sun is only two fingers away from the horizon, you have 30 minutes before it goes below that. Chubby or skinny fingers may add or minus a few minutes 😉

How much daylight is left

Picture taken from this site.

I hope these two little tricks will help you in your everyday life and also as you are camping, bugging out, or surviving. 

What other sun tricks do you know about?

Did you know about either of these?


  • Comments (3)

    • 3

      I once knew about the compass clock trick but forgot how to do it. Thanks for the reminder.

    • 3

      I had heard of the hand measurement before, but couldn’t remember what time interval each finger was. Thanks for the reminder!

      For the watch trick, I saw it for the first time watching a Bear Grylls thing today, actually. I must need to know this if the universe it telling it to me twice in one day from different sources!

      • 2

        Go try it this afternoon as the sun is setting and see if it’s really accurate or not. The sun is setting so early lately that we have to get out sooner to see it.