3 Ways to Use a Compass

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3 Ways to Use a Compass
3 Ways to Use a Compass

The compass is an essential tool for survival in the wild. Along with a good-quality topographical map of the area you're in, knowing how to use a compass is a guarantee that you'll never be lost. You can learn to identify the basic components of the compass, get an accurate read of your bearing, and develop the necessary navigation skills with a few simple steps. Just see Step 1 below to get started.


Method 1 of 3: Learning the Basics

Use Compass Step 1

Step 1. Understand the basic layout of the compass

While all compasses are different, they include a magnetized needle that orients itself to the Earth's magnetic fields. The basic compass has the following components that you should be familiar with:

  • THE base plate it is the plastic base in which the compass is inserted.
  • The "'direction arrow"' is an arrow on the base plate and pointing outwards.
  • THE capsule it is the clear plastic circle that houses the magnetized compass needle.
  • THE marking of degrees it is the disk around the compass that displays all 360 degrees of the circle.
  • THE magnetic needle it is the needle that rotates inside the compass.
  • THE guidance arrow is the non-magnetic arrow inside the compass capsule.
  • At guidelines are those inside the compass capsule parallel to the orienting arrow.
Use Compass Step 2

Step 2. Hold the compass correctly

Place the compass flat on your palm, which should be in front of your chest. This is the proper posture for the compass. If you're looking at a map, place it on a flat surface and the compass over the map for a more accurate reading.

Step 3. Find out where you are facing

A quick basic orientation exercise is knowing which direction you are facing or heading. Look at the magnetic needle. It should swing one way or the other unless you're facing North.

  • rotate the marking of degrees until the guidance lines line up with the magnetic arrow, both pointing north. Then find the direction you are facing by looking at the direction of the arrow. If the arrow direction is between N and E, for example, you are looking northeast.
  • Find where the direction of the arrow meets the degree marking. For a more accurate reading, look closely at the compass markers. If they cross at 23, you're 23 degrees northeast.
Use Compass Step 4

Step 4. Understand the difference between "true" North and "magnetic" North

Although it seems confusing that there are two types of "North", it's a basic distinction that you can learn quickly, and it's an essential part of learning to use a compass correctly.

  • O Royal North or North of Map refers to where all longitudinal lines meet on the map, at the North Pole. All maps are drawn the same way, with True North at the top. Unfortunately, because of small variations in the magnetic field, the compass does not point to true north; it always points to Magnetic North.
  • O Magnetic North refers to the inclination of the magnetic field, about eleven degrees of inclination of the Earth's axis. Thus, there is a difference between true north and magnetic north of up to 20 degrees in some places. Depending on where you are on the Earth's surface, you will have to consider the magnetic shift for an accurate reading.
  • While the difference may seem incidental, just one degree of a mile away means you miss 100 meters of your route. Think about where you will be after ten or twenty miles. It is important to compensate for declination.

Step 5. Learn to correct declination

Declination refers to the amount by which the North of the map and the North of the compass differ at a given point, given the Earth's magnetic field. To make using the compass much easier, you can correct the declination by either adding or subtracting the route declination value in degrees, depending on whether you follow a map or a compass, and whether the area you are in declines to the East. or West.

  • In the US, the zero declination line passes through Alabama, Illinois and Wisconsin, with a slight diagonal. East of this line, the declination orients towards the West. This means that Magnetic North is several degrees west of Real North. West of that line, the opposite happens. Find out the declination of the area you will be traveling to to compensate for this.
  • Let's say you follow your compass in an area with a west declination. You must subtract the degrees needed to get the corresponding correct direction on the map. In an area with east declination, you must add.

Method 2 of 3: Using the Compass

Step 1. Find out which direction you are heading

When you're walking through the woods or fields, it's good to periodically check your direction to see if you're going in the direction you intend. To do this, move the compass until it places the arrow in the direction you are traveling and want to continue traveling. Unless you are heading north, the magnetic needle will rotate to one side.

  • Rotate the degree dial until the orienting arrow lines up north of the magnetic needle. When this happens, you'll know where the directional arrow is pointing.
  • Fix the local magnetic variation by turning the dial left or right depending on the declination. See where the arrow direction lines up with the degree mark.

Step 2. Keep moving in that direction

To do this, simply hold the compass in the proper position, turn your body until the north end of the magnetic needle once again lines up with the orienting needle, and follow the direction of the arrow. Refer to the compass as often as necessary, but avoid accidentally rotating the degree mark from the current position.

Use Compass Step 8

Step 3. Focus on distant points

To accurately follow the direction of the arrow, look at the arrow and focus on a distant object, such as a tree, pole, or other landmark, and use it as a guide. Don't focus on something too far away, like a mountain, as large objects aren't accurate enough for navigation. When you reach your reference, use the compass to find another one.

If your visibility is limited and you can't see all distant objects, use someone else in the group (if any). Be quiet and then ask her to move away from you in the direction indicated by the arrow. Guide her direction as she walks. When she approaches the limit of visibility, ask her to wait until you reach her. Repeat if necessary

Step 4. Transfer the route direction to the map

Place the map on a horizontal surface, then place the compass over the map so that the arrow points to the True North of the map. If you know your current position on the map, slide the compass so that the edge of the compass goes past your current position, but with the arrow still pointing north.

Draw a line along the edge of the compass and across your current position. If you keep this direction, the route from your current position will be along the line you just drew on the map

Step 5. Learn to follow the course on the map

To find out which direction to take to reach your destination, place the map on a horizontal surface and the compass over the map. Using the edge of the compass as a ruler, position it to create a line between your current position and where you intend to go.

  • Rotate the degree marker until the orienting arrow points to True North on the map. This will also align the compass guidance lines with the north-south lines on the map. When the degree markings are in place, save the map.
  • In this case, you must correct the declination by adding the appropriate number of degrees in the area with west declination and subtracting in the area with east declination. It's the opposite of what you do when setting your first compass route, an important distinction.

Step 6. Take a new route to navigate

Hold the compass horizontally in front of you with the direction of the arrow pointing away from you. Use the arrow keys to guide you to the destination. Position your body until the north end of the magnetic needle lines up with the guide needle; this way, you will be properly guided to the destination on the map.

Method 3 of 3: Finding Your Way When You're Lost

Step 1. Choose three important landmarks that you can see and find them on the map

One of the hardest things to do with a compass, but one of the most important, is knowing where you are when you don't know your exact location on the map. By locating the landmarks you can see on the map-ideally, they're as far out of your field of vision as possible-you'll find yourself.

Step 2. Point the arrow to the first landmark

Unless the landmark is north of you, the magnetic needle will rotate to one side. Rotate the degree dial until the orienting arrow lines up with the north end of the magnetic needle. When they are aligned, the compass will tell you which direction the arrow is pointing. Correct the declination depending on the area.

Step 3. Transfer the landmark direction to the map

Place the map on a horizontal surface, then place the compass over the map so that the orienting arrow points to the map's True North. Then slide the compass so that the edge passes the landmark on the map, keeping the orienting arrow pointing north.

Step 4. Triangulate your position

Draw a line along the edge of the compass and along its approximate position. This is the first of three lines you'll draw to find your position, forming a triangle with the other two landmarks.

Repeat the process for the other two landmarks. When you are done, there will be three lines forming a triangle on the map. Your position is inside this triangle, the size of which depends on the accuracy of your data. More precise orientations reduce the size of the triangle. With a lot of practice, you will have lines crossing at a single point


  • Trust your compass: 99, 9% of the time, it gives you the right direction. The landscapes are quite similar to each other; so again: TRUST YOUR COMPASS.
  • You can also hold the compass against your body by holding the sides of the base between your two hands (making an L with your thumbs) and keeping your elbows close to your sides. Face your destination, look straight ahead and face the object you are using as a reference. The imaginary line extending from your body will travel along the compass along the direction of the arrow. You can even rest your thumbs (which are resting on the edge of the compass) against your belly to steady it. Be sure not to wear a belt with a steel buckle or other magnetic material near the compass when doing this.
  • It's often easier to take advantage of nearby resources to find your exact position. Triangulation will be most useful if you are really lost or in an unreferenced zone.
  • For maximum accuracy, hold the compass in front of your eyes and look down in the direction of the navigation arrow to find waypoints, guidance points, etc.
  • Compass marks are usually red or black points. The north mark is usually marked with an N. However, if for some reason there is no N, try to find out which is north by orienting the compass north or south in relation to the sun.

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