Here are directions I tried to make as simple as possible to follow. They instruct you on how to utilize simple mathematics and the sun combined with knowledge of the days date and when the last solstice was.
If you can simply remember the dates for winter and summer solstice and their equinox and recall the equation I outline below then all you have to do is fill in your latitude and the current date then do the simple math. The end result gives you a compass heading accurate within 1 degree. A modern compass gives you an accuracy of 2 degrees.
The Norse traveled successfully this way for decades long before sextons were invented which required accurate time pieces to function correctly.
Below is my instruction based on dates for 2016 when I initially typed this all up for presentation for one of my wilderness survival classes I was teaching at the time.
• 2016 March 20th / September 22nd equinoxes suns midway travel points where sun rises/sets @ 90E / 270W on equator
• June 20th / December 21st solstices sun’s travel ending points
• Solstices where sun rises/sets @ 23.5* above 90E/270W on June 20th and below on December 21st
• Sun travels 182.5 days & 47* between solstice dates
• Sun travels 47/182.5=0.25 per day
• Summer solstice Rise @ 90-23.5=66.5E Set @ 270+23.5=293.5W
• Winter Rise @ 90+23.5=113.5E Set @ 270-23.5=246.5W
• Insert today’s date (0000)
• Decide which solstice date heading towards and count how many days past previous equinox date
• Multiply (number of days) X 0.25= (?) + 90E if heading towards winter solstice or 90E – (?) if heading towards summer solstice
• CURRENT DATE APRIL 30TH = 42days past March equinox x 0.25 = 10.5* 90* – 10.5* = 79.5E sun rise on equator
• Once we know where the sun has risen on the equator we need to insert our latitude into equation (Home LAT 41)
• Add Latitude to final degree figure (79.5E)
• 79.5E + 41LAT = 120.5E
• Sun Rise April 30, 2016 should be 120.5E at 41LAT
Here are the solstice dates through 2019
And here is a helpful compass rose to plot your course once you know what degree the sun rose that morning…
You can take this whole system one step further and calculate the hourly movement of the sun and how many degrees it travels per hour to know where it sits throughout the day as well as the sunrise and sunset shown here. But that is an entirely separate class. Know however that at high solar noon the sun will not actually be directly over your head but in fact 180 degrees South due to the sun moves in an arc pattern and not a straight line because our planet is a sphere.
I hope this was easy enough to understand as I don’t know how to explain it any more simple in written form. This summer I will gladly do a video of this in practice while backpacking. Once you get it down and understand the concept then it is actually quite easy and fast. You will find you can get a relative quick bearing in less time then your buddy takes to pull out a map and compass. Follow up your knowledge and strengths in land navigation by learning how to tell accurate time using the sun and your hand and become your friends go to person for guiding them through the back-country. Or just by a handheld GPS 🙂