Outdoor Skills: Determining How Much Time is Left Before Sunset

How To: Determine How Much Time is Left Before Sunset

Dividing the day sky into 12 imaginary sections of one hour each, using the most eastern point as 6am, noon as directly overhead, and the most western point as 6pm is likely to cause great dismay if you’re in the wilderness and hoping to get your shelter and fire set up before nightfall. Using the simple method below can mean the difference between being cold, wet and hungry, or being warm, dry and possibly fed.

Determining How Much Time is Left Before Sunset

Besides being a neat trick to show friends this technique can determine your survival in the wilderness. One of the first things you need to get set up is your shelter; fire, food and water come next in most cases. Making a shelter from scratch, such as a debris hut, using natural materials takes more time than setting up most tents. Thus, it is essential that you be aware of how much sunlight is left so you have adequate time to get things done.

This method measures the amount of time before the sun disappears beyond the horizon. There may be some light in the sky after that point, dusk, that will still provide enough light to get a few easy things wrapped up before it’s too dark to see.

  1. Find the location of the sun, without looking directly at it (this could harm your eyes)
  2. Raise your arm up, with your palm facing you, stretch your arm out as far as you comfortably can with your ‘pinky-finger’ parallel to the ground.
  3. Start with your hand being positioned just underneath the horizon line, see my photo’s. Count each hand every time you flip your hand levels.
  4. Count the number of times you have to move your hand upwards before seeing that your hand is sitting just beneath the Sun. Each hand width (4 fingers lined up together) represents about one hour until the sun sets.
  5. When one full hand-width is too great, switch to using individual fingers. Each finger represents about 15 minutes.

Note: This technique is generally correct for latitudes where the bulk of the human population resides and if the sun is shining at least bright enough for you to see it glowing through clouds. If you go above 50 degrees latitude, closer to the North or South Poles, this method will not work due to the Sun appearing for longer periods of time on the horizon.

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1 Comment on Outdoor Skills: Determining How Much Time is Left Before Sunset

  1. bmaverick
    06/22/2016 at 11:27 am (6 years ago)

    This is an old farmers almanac tool. Comes in handy for a quick check vs. guessing.


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