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How To Use A Compass

Posted by on 10/20/2011 to Signals & Navigation

Using a compass is a critical skill to have for many purposes. Among the few essential survival priorities, navigating is one of them and having the right survival gear (a compass) can help you properly navigate to where you want to be. Below are a few techniques to help you properly use your compass when needed.
How To Maintain Direction Of An Object Using A Map Compass
There is a navigational technique known as 'Dead Reckoning' in which you figure out the direction you need to travel and then 'aim' for certain landmarks that are visible along the path of travel. However, sometimes you may come across a situation in which you focus on a landmark but as you travel you lose sight of the object due to an obstruction of view from large trees, rocks, gullys, ect... This is where using your map compass can help you maintain the proper direction. Without using your compass it is very easy to travel in the wrong direction because you can very rarely stay in a straight line when walking through a wooded or rocky area, and losing your direction by even a few degrees can send you off track by a large amount depending how far you travel.
  1. Before you begin traveling, hold your compass as level as possible and point the arrow (at front of your map compass) in the direction of the object you wish to travel towards.
  2. Now turn the rotating ring so that the 'N' on the rotating part is allign with the North end of the needle.
  3. Now just travel in the direction that your map compass is pointing while keeping the 'N' and magnetic North end of the needle alligned.
How To Reach A Destination On A Map Using A Compass
If you have a map and a compass you should be able to reach any location you want, provided you know (or have a rough idea) of where you currently are on the map, and have at least some degree of map reading abilities.
  1. First, find your present location on the map, the direction of travel, and magnetic North using your compass.
  2. Spread the map out and draw directional lines of magnetic North according to the variation given on the map. You can use the sides of your map compass to draw straight lines.
  3. Find your present location and your destination on the map and draw a straight line between those places, again using your compass. Place your compass on the map so as to point the 'arrow mark' or 'index line' (front of your map compass) to the destination. (Make sure map North and compass North are pointing the same way)
  4. Turn the rotating ring and make the arrows in the compass capsule parallel to magnetic North.
  5. Hold your compass and turn yourself slowly until the North end of the needle is parallel to the arrows in the compass capsule. Now you can travel in the direction your compass points as long as you keep the needle and arrow parallel with eachother.
How To Find Your Location On A Map Using A Compass
Suppose you have a map and a compass, but do not know exactly where you are to properly navigate yourself to your destination. Using this technique you will be able to pinpoint your location and then navigate to where you want to be.
  1. Locate yourself on a high point from where you can see 2 distinctive features that are labeled on the map. For example, suppose you can see a mountain on the left (point A) and a lake on the right (point B).
  2. Point the 'index line' or 'arrow' (front of map compass) towards the mountain (point A) then align the 'N' of the rotating ring with magnetic North on your compass.
  3. Set the compass on your map and align the North end of you needle with North direction indicated on your map.
  4. Keeping the current alignment, slide your compass on the map so that one side of scale or straight edge of the compass points towards the point A (in this case the mountain) and draw a line down from the point along the compass edge.
  5. Repeat the same procedure on point B (the lake) using the same side of the compass.
  6. The point at which these 2 lines intersect is where you are located.
There you have it! Some basic but very helpful compass and map reading techniques. These skills are useful for backpacking, hiking, camping, hunting, and especially... ORIENTEERING! (Be sure to check out other articles on Orienteering)
Blog Comments
Franc Le' Map Date 2/9/2012 2:25:00 AM
All good map reading tips for orienteering as well. Would like to see some elaboration in terms of map reading in conjunction with using a compass.
Lou Date 4/28/2012 10:23:00 PM
As a kid I was made by my dad to learn how to use a compass. Now when outdoors I use that important life skill
mac Date 5/12/2012 3:38:00 AM
cool thanks
mac Date 5/12/2012 3:39:00 AM
cool thanks
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