How To Use Compass

Northern & Southern Hemisphere

How to use a compass?/ basics

A compass is one of the most basic navigation tools any hiker can own. It needs no batteries, works with any map, and even works without a map! While entire books have been written about navigating with a compass, every new compass user needs to know the basic concepts.


The first thing to realize when looking at your compass is that the floating needle is magnetized and the red end is always pointing towards magnetic north. No matter which way you turn the compass, the red needle stays fixed on magnetic north.

Steps 1,2,3

1.) Place the compass flat on your palm and your palm in front of your chest. This is the proper compass stance.


2.) Move the compass until the direction of travel arrow is pointing in the direction you wish to head. Unless you’re heading north, the magnetic needle will spin off to one side.


3.)Twist the degree dial until the orienting arrow lines up with the north end of the magnetic needle. Once they are aligned, this will tell you where your direction of travel arrow is pointing.


4.)Take off local magnetic variation by twisting the degree dial. This magnetic variation is known as declination and is due to the fact that Earth’s magnetic field lines are constantly moving relative to the actual North Pole. Since our maps are all based off of true north, you must adjust the compass to compensate. There are many web resources you can use to determine this for your area.


5.)See where the direction of travel arrow lines up with the degree dial. This will tell you which direction you’re heading. For example, if the arrow is between the S and the W, you’re heading southwest.


6.) Transpose the direction of travel onto your map. Place your map on a horizontal surface, then place the compass on the map so that the orienting arrow points to true north on the map. Then, slide your compass around so that its edge passes through your current position.