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Did you know that the difference between survival, inconvenience, and comfort, can be as simple as turning a dial? Open any survival manual, and you’re bound to find some crudely sketched drawing of an analog watch being used to determine a cardinal direction. This can be confusing or difficult to interpret if you’ve never been exposed to the idea before. Using a compass as a watch is rarely discussed in field craft books, so it may not even cross your mind as an option.
Thanks to Jacks Genega, a talented instructor and the owner of Wildcard Wilderness Survival, we are able to watch a demonstrations which make the two skills easy to understand.
Estimating the time fairly accurately with a compass is one of those more obscure fieldcraft skills, but it is really easy to learn. Central to the concept is the fact that planet Earth must rotate 360 degrees on its axis to make one full rotation. Since it does this in 24 hours, each degree is the equivalent to 15 minutes (360/24 = 15). Assuming this is done in the northern hemisphere, by aligning the orienting arrow on the compass with the southern pointing end of the needle, simply count the degrees in the direction of the sun. This process would be reversed in the southern hemisphere. Each degree counted to the left of zero is 15 minutes subtracted from noon. Each degree to the right of zero is 15 minutes added to noon. To use a compass as a watch with more accuracy, being aware of time zone changes or daylight savings, and checking declination adjustments are crucial. But if that is too confusing, check out the Wildcard Wilderness video here:
This is a fieldcraft skill that is more commonly known, but you must have either an analog watch, or a watch digitally capable of displaying watch hands. What it boils down to is rotating the watch until the hour hand is pointing at the sun. Keeping the hour hand pointing at the sun, look at the space between the shorthand and 12, then divide that space in half. In the northern hemisphere, that halfway line is pointing to the south. See it in action here:
It should be noted that these are not precise ways to measure time or determine direction, but it will get you in the ballpark. Knowing the time could be vital when trying to determine how long you’ve been gone, and how long you have to get back, especially when trying to return before dark. Knowing the direction you’re going could prevent you from traveling in circles. Whatever the case may be, if you forget an important piece of gear like a watch or a compass, having these skills at your disposal can quickly turn a life threatening survival situation into a mild inconvenience.