Natural Navigation; Shadow Sticks

You Should never substitute good map and compass work for natural navigation, Natural nav should be used to supplement a comprehensive knowledge of modern techniques.  The use of using naturally occurring  phenomenon also gives us a greater understanding of how our planet works in relation to the sun, stars, winds and plant life.

One of the more tricky natural nav techniques individuals have a hard time getting their heads around are shadow sticks.  In this short Blog we’ll go through the basics.

As we all know (hopefully) the sun rises in the East and sets in the West. At 12 o’clock mid day the sun is at it’s highest in the sky or “Zenith”. This means at 12 noon, the sun is directly in the South in the Northern hemisphere, and North in the southern hemisphere.

NOTE Please adjust for BST, or whatever light saving time used for you’re country. After the last Sunday in March, the clocks go forward, meaning the sun is at it’s zenith at 1300.

So if we know that the sun rises in the East and sets in the west, we can be sure that the sun is in a constant transition from East to West throughout the day. Using a straight stick, ideally waist height, drive this into the ground.  Where the shadow of the top of the stick falls is you’re WEST marker.

NOTE, this first marker as it is, is not pointing to “West”, all we know is that if the the sun is in the East it must be throwing the sticks shadow in a more westerly direction, as shadows form on the opposite side of a light source.

For this method to be accurate we need to leave the shadow stick at least 15-20mins, the longer you leave the shadow stick, the more accurate it will be.

After 15-20 mins the sun has traveled further to the west, and is thus throwing it’s shadow in a more easterly direction than before NOTE This last shadow is not pointing East, but is in a more easterly direction relative to it’s position 15-20 minutes ago.


The final stick you place in the ground is your EAST marker, you can place a long stick between the two WEST and EAST markers. Then with a second stick, bisect the West/East line to give you your N/E pointers, remembering the old acronym Never Eat Shredded Wheat, will help you with this!