How many times have you been out on the water or hiking in the woods and realized you have no idea what time it is? At some points in life, this not knowing is about as blissful a feeling as can be had. You are free to go at your own speed without a care for the time of day. The trouble is that there are still those other times when it is extremely critical for you to know what time it is and you stress yourself out because you need to know right away and can’t.
When you find yourself in a situation like this, all hope is certainly not lost. With only a small amount of knowledge, it is possible to get a pretty decent estimate on the time of day given some simple calculations.
First things first, know that the sun rises in the East and sets in the West. Don’t know your directions? Here is an easy way to remember. If it is early in the day (like before
noon) turn your body to face the sun. Don’t look at the sun by any means, but get your body oriented so that the sun is directly in front of you. This direction is roughly East and behind you is West. If you turn your body 90 degrees to the left you will now have the sun on your right hand side. The direction in front of you is North and behind you South.
Now turn your body back towards the sun. Check to see how high the sun has risen. If the sun is directly above you, then it is best to estimate that the time is around noon. If you have a general idea of when the sun rises each morning (like 6 A.M.), compare how high the sun is to being directly over your head. The higher the sun is in the sky while still being in the East, the later in the morning it will be.
You can also divide the sky into segments. If you know the sun rises at 6 A.M. and overhead is noon, then halfway up the horizon would be around 9 A.M. How close is the sun to this middle line? If it is below, then chances are good it is before 9 A.M. If you measure it out and the sun is above that middle line, you know it should be later in the morning than 9 A.M.
There is another system for telling time in the afternoon as well. This method requires you to do a little looking towards the sun, but is safe because the sun is covered by your hand at all times. All you need to do is to face in the direction of the sun and extend both hands out in front of you. You should have your palms facing you and your fingers parallel to the ground.
Raise your right hand so that your right index finger blocks the sun fully. Next place your left hand directly under the right so that your right pinky finger touches your left index finger. It is roughly estimated that each full hand of four fingers is equal to one hour and each finger should be around 15 minutes a piece. You can get a decent estimate of the daylight remaining by counting how many complete hands you need from your initial blocking of the sun down to the horizon. So if you have four full hands and two fingers, there should be around four and a half hours left before the sun hits the horizon.
Now this method isn’t foolproof by any means, but with a little practice some people can become quite adept at telling time based upon the sun’s position in the sky. I actually used the finger trick recently when I was out on the water and had no way of telling time. My estimate put me in the ballpark of the time within roughly an hour and was quite helpful in that moment.The last thing you ever want is to get stuck in a situation where knowing the time is important and have no way to figure it out. Using one of these methods should help you to get a firm grasp of where your day is at and how much time you have left before it is time to head back in.