Packing gear that has a dual purpose is one of the most efficient ways to pack. It’s like getting a two for one deal on the trail and you prevent having to lug around the extra weight of single use equipment. Though with some pieces of kit it’s good to have backups, as is the case with this simple hack that will keep your bearings straight. There is an old trick to locate north, south, east and west using an analog watch (clock with hands) or the analog clock feature on your phone. Here’s how it works!
First point the hour hand (the shorter of the two) at the sun. This can be more difficult than expected if it’s cloudy or you’re in a deep forest. If you find high ground, a clearing, climb a tree or locate the brightest spot in the sky, however, it’s still possible. If you’re lost at night and don’t have a compass, which you should always have in your pack, your best bet is to make camp and wait until sunrise.
Next, determine the mid-point between the hour hand, as it points at the sun, and the number twelve (top position of the clock). For example if it’s six o’clock the mid-point will be the three (the minute, second, and other hands are not important).
Once the midpoint has been determined between the hour hand and number twelve, this position represents south. And if you imagine a line that intersects the clock from the position you just found the opposite side represents north. Once you’ve found north and south, east and west are easy to locate by imagining a line that is perpendicular to your first line (a 90 degree angle) making an equal “X” over your watch.
This isn’t the only trick outside of using a compass to determine bearings and shouldn’t be relied on solely, but it is a good method to use in an emergency if your compass is lost or to impress your fellow wilderness athletes with your superior backcountry skill. It is also a good way to get a quick check and employ your watch with more than just one purpose.