Tips For Using Your Compass Correctly

Suppose you have already prepared all the necessary equipment for your hikes, such as your favorite hiking shoes and your large-capacity backpack. In that case, you should know that it is essential not to forget your compass to quickly find the trail that you want to walk and not get lost in the forest’s depths.

Likely, you do not know how to use a compass, and you are wondering how to use such an orientation instrument. That’s why, in writing, we decided to write this article to give you some concrete advice on how to use the compass.

So no longer be afraid of getting lost in the woods on your hikes because just knowing how to use a compass can help you find your way back and should ease your mind should this happen to you.

The different parts of a compass:

gold plated compass

The support plate:

The compass tray, also called an “apron,” is the flat part where the compass is inserted and which allows you to position your compass on your map easily.

Also inscribed on the compass support plate are scales with a sight mark and other measuring elements that will help you orient yourself with ease and precision throughout your excursion.

The direction arrow:

The directional arrow or “line of sight” is used to stabilize the direction to be taken when using a compass on a map while following a route well defined by the latter.

If you point to a point with your compass from your map to find your direction, the direction arrow orientation should always go from where you are to where you want to go.

It is an arrow that does not move.

The rotating cockpit:

The compass compartment is a capsule that protects the compass’s magnetic needle and the liquid in which it floats (which is an oil called “varnolene”) while allowing its optimal functioning. This will allow the magnetic needle to rotate freely and point north.

The compass housing is rotatable for proper alignment and, therefore, easy to find the direction to follow.

Around the perimeter of the cockpit, you will find the graduated dial.

The graduated dial:

On the instrument’s dial, you will find a graduated scale located around the perimeter of the rotating compass housing. Just push it in to turn the entire cabin.

The magnetic needle:

The magnetic needle serves as a pointer inside the passenger compartment. It is contained in a special liquid and rotates to indicate magnetic north under all circumstances.

It is timely to remember that true north and magnetic north are two completely different things that should not be confused. The north indicated by the compass is magnetic north.

The compass needle, which indicates magnetic north, follows precisely the Earth’s magnetic field, constantly changing. In contrast, the north axis of the planet is determined by the north axis and located at the North Pole.

It is also fundamental to specify that, since this needle is magnetized, it is attracted by any metal object that is on you or close to you, such as a belt buckle, a high voltage electric pole, a belt buckle, or even a knife. It is, therefore, necessary to move the compass away from all these sources so as not to mislead the magnetic needle of the compass and thus find your way.

The orientation arrow:

The orienting arrow (also known as the “inlaid arrow”) is the compass’s non-magnetic arrow, and it rotates with the cockpit. It is used to orient the compass with the map. It always indicates north.

Orientation lines:

Orientation lines are parallel to the orientation arrow. They are found on the bottom of the compass housing and align the compass with the map.

How to use a compass?

hand holding a compass

How the magnetic compass needle works:

One of the fundamental principles for learning the operation and practical use of a compass is understanding how the magnetic needle behaves concerning this orientation instrument’s rest.

Typical mountaineering compasses have a magnetic needle made up of two different colors, which are, as a rule, red and white. The red part (sometimes substituted by black) will always indicate north.

To orient yourself north, you need to hold your compass firmly against your chest and make sure that the direction arrow is pointing in front of you.

The red part of the magnetic needle will point north, but first, make sure the direction arrow is aligned north on the graduated dial.

Twist slightly on yourself until the magnetic needle is aligned with the direction arrow. When the magnetic needle and the direction arrow match, you have found north!

Reading an azimuth from your compass:

One of the first things to do in learning to use a compass is to determine your bearings using the compass.

To take readings (and therefore azimuths) from a compass, use the small numbers located on the graduated dial as a reference.

Imagine that you can see the top of a mountain from where you are: if you want to take your position, point the direction arrow on your compass towards it.

Slowly turn the rotating compass housing until the direction arrow and magnetic needle is aligned. That is until the two red arrows are aligned (and in some cases, the black hand is aligned with the red arrow!).

The reading on the compass (and therefore the azimuth) corresponds to the number indicated by the direction arrow.

Extrapolate the orientation of your map:

compass on top of a map

To know how to use a compass to orient yourself, you will need to take a map reading.

To point the direction you want to go with your compass, it is necessary to determine two points on your map: the first point is where you are, while the second is where you want to go.

Find a solid and smooth surface to position your maps, such as a flat rock, soft ground, or your legs: this way, you will have a stable position to take your readings.

Place your compass board firmly on the map and draw a straight line connecting the points mentioned above.

Make sure the direction arrow points precisely to the point you are going to.

Now you can rotate the compass cockpit until the orientation lines (located in the cockpit) are correctly aligned with the grid lines on your map.

Then, turn slightly on yourself until the direction arrow and the magnetic needle coincide.

Perform this operation every 100 to 200 meters to make sure you are not on the wrong track.

Magnetic declination:

spherical compass

The degree of magnetic declination is the difference in distance between true north and magnetic north.

The degree of magnetic declination is constantly changing because the Earth’s magnetic field, too, is continually evolving.

Each card has its degree of magnetic declination (always depending on the age of your card), and it can be a western magnetic declination (-) or an eastern magnetic declination (+).

To set your destination, add or subtract the degree of magnetic declination from your reading, and it should get you on the right track.

Now that you know the basics of how a compass works and uses it, you can always take one with you to ensure you never get lost and are always in the right direction.