How to Use a Compass

A Complete Guide to Orienteering Compasses

What is a Compass?

A compass is a device used for orienteering and global navigation. They work by using the Earth's Magnetic Field to pull the needle north. This way, one will always be able to find any direction they want to go and get where they are headed.

Earth's Magnetic Field

Earth's Magnetic Field plays a major role in the use of compasses. It affects compasses with its magnetism and its north and south poles. The red arrow of the compass is magnetized so that it will always point north, and the white or black arrow will always point south.

Parts of a Compass

There are 5 main parts of your everyday compass. The first part is the base plate, which is the part you hold when using a compass. The second part is the compass needle. This needle has two sides, one of which is usually red, and the other of which is usually white or black. The needle is the most important part of the compass. The direction of travel arrow is the arrow that will point away from you when holding it correctly. The orienteering arrow is the red arrow inside the compass dial that you will need to line up your needle with at some point. The last part of the compass is the compass dial, which is used to tell you exactly what direction you're traveling.
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How to use a Compass: Step by Step

1.Line up the compass dial and needle so that you are facing north by turning yourself and/or the dial.
2. Decide which direction you want to go. For our purposes, we will go directly west at 270 degrees.
3. Turn the compass dial so that the 270 degree mark is facing the direction of travel arrow.
4. Now, rotate your body until the red north arrow lines up with the orienteering arrow.
5.Hold the rounded end of the compass against your stomach, keeping the arrow lined up.
6. If you walk straight forward, you should be heading directly 270 degrees west, or whatever other direction you wanted to go.


Happy Orienteering!

Map Compass 101
Video by PackRat Outdoors