How to Use a Compass


There are a few occasions when you will need to know how to use a compass. If the weather is closing in for example, then it is always a good idea to take a reading. Other times there might be confusion on the ground as to what footpath to take, or you might be walking without a good visible path. Sometimes you might be walking without a path at all, if for example you want to join up with another path from the one you are already on. So it’s certainly worth learning how to navigate with a compass.

I definitely recommend a compass with a baseplate, because it’s much easier to take a proper reading. The one shown to the left is a good example. You rotate the compass dial to find north and use the baseplate to line up your direction of travel. Some of them have a small magnifier built in that can be useful. The Silva Compass Expedition 4-360 is an ideal choice – the needle isn’t going to waver around and the compass even comes with luminous markings.


So how do you use it?

Locate your position on the map and the location you are heading for. Lay your compass on the map so that the long edge of the baseplate joins up the two locations.

The next step involves keeping the baseplate steady, and turning the compass dial so that the arrow-point in the base of the compass, is in-line with the vertical gridlines on the map. The arrow should be pointing to the top of the map (north). The top of the map is always north; there is no need to worry about true north and magnetic north. You should now have your reading, so on to the next stage…

Holding the compass, you can now move yourself around until the red end of the needle is directly inside the arrow-point at the base of the compass. The red end of the needle always points north, and you know that the arrow-point in the base has been set to north from your reading. You are now ready to walk in the direction that the arrow on the baseplate is pointing.

The easiest way to navigate, is by checking for any landmarks in-line with the arrow on the baseplate of the compass; for example some rocks, or a tree. This saves you from constantly looking at your compass. Just walk towards your landmark and then repeat.