The East-West Rule and Daytime Navigation

Two summers ago, I went on a forty-day hiking and biking journey from Calais on the north shore of France to Chamonix, in the French Alps. I covered nearly 800 miles of terrain, and I used three main navigational tools: map, compass, and my wristwatch. At the beginning of the journey, I made a lot of route-finding errors, but I got better along the way as I learned to use the position of the sun to help me determine my direction–in addition to the information I gained from my map and compass.

The most important thing to remember when using the sun to help you find direction is that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. Of course…there’s a bit of seasonal variation, and we’re not talking exact direction here, but the east-west rule is a general truth. Since I walked for many, many, many miles through fields in Northern France, I saw lots of wheat and hay, and I looked at how the sun hit the bales:

Since I knew the east-west rule, I knew that the side of the bales that was lit up by the sun at first light was the east-facing side.

Another general truism is that the sun is due south in the sky at midday. Notice where the sun is hitting these bales–photographed at midday–in comparison to the other bales photographed at first light.

Knowing how to use a map and a compass–your basic navigational necessities–is the best way to go about navigating through unknown terrain, but you can also use the east-west rule to help you move more confidently in your desired direction.

Want more daytime navigation tips?
Read my article on the About.com Survival Skills site:
“Daytime Tips for Finding North in the Northern Hemisphere”
Figuring out which way is north can help you find your way through unknown terrain. Here are a few tips for finding north during the daytime in the Northern Hemisphere.

Photos © Traci J. Macnamara.

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