Home / Miscellaneous / How to use a compass?

How to use a compass?

A skill once quite well known, using a compass is not something an average person will have to do even once in her lifetime. For one thing, there is a taxi. Then there is Google map with pretty accurate GPS positioning and smart route building. So why bother with the compass?

“Just for fun of it” would be the most honest answer, really. Although “what if i’m hiking and my smartphone/ GPS battery dies?” is also a good reason to have this skill as a backup. 

In fact there are all sorts of things that can go either terrible or fun (if you ready for them). You can check at toptravelpoint.com for more info about hiking or foot travelling. 

Anyways, whatever your reason is, let’s dive into the compass orienteering basics, so you can join the proud 12% of populus who can find their way around any situation (literally) with this simple yet ingenious device.

1. The inventory

For the purpose of simplicity you will need the following items to navigate successfully about anywhere:

  • A compass (transparent base plate or lensatic) with a rotatable bezel and sights.
  • An up to date accurate local map

2. Navigating towards a visible destination (simple) 

Now a compass on its own is pretty useless for proper navigation. It can tell you where magnetic North is, and that’s about it. However, it can still help you keep your course in a limited vision situations and help to arrive to a desired destination. 

Imagine some simple situation: you are in a woody area (somewhere in Michigan) atop of a hill. The hill is clear from any forest. In the distance you see another hilltop that you want to arrive at – for some reason. Between the two hills is a good green forest.

Normally a person would find it difficult to just walk from one hill to the other, cause the trees will obscure the destination hilltop and leave you only with a rough feeling of your heading. 

Not with the compass though!

To accurately get to the 2nd hill with a compass, all you need to do is:

  1. Look at your compass. Note a magnetic needle (always pointing to magnetic North) AND it the drawn hollow North arrow, wich you can turn around using compass’es basel. If you align the two – a magnetic North needle should fit nicely into the countor of the drawn North needle. This is made on purpose.
  2. Now look at your desired destination through the sight of your compass (or just over the top).
  3. Wait till the magnetic needle settles and stops moving
  4. As you keep your destination in your sighs – with your other hand start rotating the basel of your compass until both a drawn North and the Magnetic North needle align.
  5. That’s it! You may start walking!
  6. As long as you keep consulting your compass – and hold magnetic neede North and and drawn Norths aligned – you should eventually arrive at the destination hilltop, no matter how many times you lose sight of it.

https://cdn6.aptoide.com/imgs/f/5/f/f5f6f1b9491c3530105fe043c2f0aa9e_screen.png?h=1080

Neat! Now you’re as knowledgeable about a compass as you average viking was some 1200 years ago! And that was totally enough for all their Euro trips! Just kidding.

Before we move on – observe the edge of you compasses’ basel that is closest to the sight. You will note a number  like “30” or “212”. This number is what’s called “your baring”. Just remember about it for the next part.

3. Complications 

Now, life is complicated. Not always will you have the luxury of walking in straight line from point A to point B. So let’s make it a bit more realistic. Imagine this: as you walk between the 2 hilltops (from our previous example), you come to a deep gorge that was hidden from your original sight by the forest. Now you have to go off course and navigate around in order to arrive to your destination. To do that, you will need to find a way around the obstacle, and then RETURN to your original route. And this can get complicated rather fast. 

But do not panic! 

In a real life it’s not just the obstacles that we meet –  but also the landmarks! 

Using landmarks makes your navigator life much easier. Before you go around the said gorge –  you could look afront and try to locate some noticeable feature that sits in your original path. For example – a big half-fallen old tree on the other side of this gorge. Great! That’d be your landmark. All you need to do is go around the gorge until you and arrive at this half-fallen tree. From if you can re-align Magnetic and drawn Norths arms of your compass again – and continue towards your final destination!

4. Navigating with the map

Landmarks are fantastic! Human brain is naturally wired to eyeball all manners of landmarks that stand out from the local scenery (high terrain,  bodies of water, gorges, buildings and structures etc). 

Moving between landmarks + knowing your baring with the compass can get your about anywhere. In fact, you can plan your whole route using landmarks (not necessarily positioned in a straight line), as long as you can adjust your baring every time you go from one landmark to the next one.

And this is where a local map would come very handy. Map already contains most of the landmarks and they are depicted with great precision. With a local map you can estimate your baring between the landmarks without having to arrive at them first!

This is how:

  • Align the map with your position:
  • place the compass at the bottom-left corner of the map sheet 
  • turn the map sheet with the compass lying on it until the North arrow drawn on the map is aligned with your compass’es Magnetic North needle). 
  • Note the baring for your next landmark (starting from your current location on the map): 
    • leave the map lying facing north and place the ruler edge of your compass next to your current location
    • point the compass it in a direction of the next landmark . 
    • Remember that number we’ve talked about in part 2, the “baring”? You’re gonna need it now! Start turning the compass basel, as you did before, until compass’ drawn North aligns with the Magnetic needle North.
    • Write down somewhere the resultant bearing number from the basel. 
  • Repeat for the next landmark, now starting from the 1st landmark as a starting point. Do that for all landmarks between which you plan on traveling.
  • As you start your journey – just dial in with your basel your first baring number. Apply all you’ve learned in parts 2 and 3 and get to your 1st landmark. Dial in the next bearing number – and start trekking towards your 2nd waypoint landmark.

Congrats! Your navigation skills have just upgraded from 8th century viking raider – to 17th century explorer! 

5. Nuances about the map and the compass

A compass is a very sensitive and delicate device. Any metal object (as small a s screw or a ballpen) can lure the North needle of north. So make sure there are no metallic object near your compass whenever you work with it.

“Up to date maps” is another issue. Especially true for northern parts of US and Canada. The more up do date map will show with greater accuracy a what’s called “magnetic declination”. 

It’s usually depicted like this:

Map’s North is referred to as Grid North (hence the map’s grid alignment), or GN. 

Magnetic North (MG) is where your compass magnetic needle will point in that area. 

Following a map for a couple miles with a 5 degree difference between the GN and a MN is no big deal! If you can observe your landmarks as you move – you can navigate with ease anyway. But for longer hauls (and if done further up North) you will have to readjust your compass for “magnetic declination” accordingly, or risk missing the destination by miles.

At this point most people would probably just say “Awwm screw it!” and get their smartphone’s GPS back out.

But just in case you really want the full story – every professional compass has a little adjustment screw on the underside of the basel to compensate for magnetic declination. 

Use a small screwdriver and dial in the difference in between GN and MN that is usually depicted on map’s right hand side. Once done – you should be OK using this your compass with this particular map as if nothing happened. 

As to conclude

In the end we would like to encourage you to just get a compass, a map from a local tourist store and go try it out. It gets much easier with practice. And above all else – it gives you a little something unique to master and become yet more confident in your own ability to master any route!

Map’s North is referred to as Grid North (hence the map’s grid alignment), or GN. 

Magnetic North (MG) is where your compass magnetic needle will point in that area. 

Following a map for a couple miles with a 5 degree difference between the GN and a MN is no big deal! If you can observe your landmarks as you move – you can navigate with ease anyway. But for longer hauls (and if done further up North) you will have to readjust your compass for “magnetic declination” accordingly, or risk missing the destination by miles.

At this point most people would probably just say “Awwm screw it!” and get their smartphone’s GPS back out.

But just in case you really want the full story – every professional compass has a little adjustment screw on the underside of the basel to compensate for magnetic declination. 

Use a small screwdriver and dial in the difference in between GN and MN that is usually depicted on map’s right hand side. Once done – you should be OK using this your compass with this particular map as if nothing happened. 

As to conclude

In the end we would like to encourage you to just get a compass, a map from a local tourist store and go try it out. It gets much easier with practice. And above all else – it gives you a little something unique to master and become yet more confident in your own ability to master any route!

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

Check Also

How to Sell an Old Car in California?

California is acclaimed for its vehicle culture. Californians’ affection for vehicle is broadly known. On …

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.