How to Make a Compass With a Leaf

How to Make a Compass With a LeafThere are many ways to find your bearing in the wild. One of the fastest, easiest ways to make a compass requires a needle or pin, a leaf (or a cork) and some standing water.


Difficulty: Easy

Making the Compass

Things You’ll Need:
  • Needle or pin
  • Small leaf (or cork)
  • Standing water
  • magnet
Step 1
Prepare or locate some standing water. The water should be still, without turbulence, ripples or movement. Standing water can be kept in a cup or found naturally in the wild as a puddle.
Place the leaf on the surface of the water. Be careful not to let it sink or get wet. It should float, keeping the topside dry.
Step 2
If you have a magnet, using one pole of the magnet, magnetize the needle by repeatedly moving the magnet in a single direction along the needle’s length. A few runs with the magnet should be enough.
Step 3
Place the needle gently on the leaf. If the needle is magnetized, it will align with the earth’s natural magnetic field, turning the leaf to point along the magnetic north-south axis.
Step 4
Determine which way is north. If this is in the daytime (and you are in the northern hemisphere), north will always be the direction the shadows are pointing. In other words, as the sun moves along the southern part of the sky, depending on how late or early in the day it is, the shadows cast by the sun will move from pointing west (at dawn), to north (at midday) to east (at sunset). Even though the shadows will not be pointing due north for most of the day, they will fall on the northern side of a line bisecting east and west. Whichever end of the needle is pointing closest to the shadows’ direction will be north.
Step 5
You are now ready to find your direction. Mark a point or object on the horizon that aligns with north for reference later (preferably something far away—mountain peaks work well). You won’t always have standing water available. But hang onto the needle, it may continue to be useful.

Tips & Warnings

If you are in the southern hemisphere, then the shadows cast by the sun will be pointing south.
This compass is no substitute for a professional, orienteering compass. While this is a fun project and a useful survival tool, always make sure you are properly prepared before venturing out into the wild. A good compass, with bezel and bearings, is one of the best investments a hiker can make.

Article Written By Benjamin Williams

Ben Williams is an award-winning reporter and freelance writer based out of Colorado. He has written for conglomerates of newspapers and magazines, supplying news, features, editorial and opinion. While running an Energy Services and Consulting firm, he now writes for multiple websites including the news site,

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