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Compass Learning : How to Use a Compass

Are you planning to hike this summer? If yes, then having proper navigation equipment is the best thing you can do for the obvious reason. Let’s not forget, you can get lost in the woods even if you know where you are going. Therefore, compass learning is a must for hikers.

For this matter, a compass is must-have equipment for any serious hiker. It can help you find your way out of the jungle. Also, it can save your life from jungle dangers.

So stick with me here. In this guide, I will explain to you how to use a compass. I will also show you why it is must-have equipment in your gear list.

Best Rated Compass For Hiking And Backpacking

Compass Learning

Importance of Compass For Hiking

Technology has taken the world by storm. Sadly. The usefulness of simple navigation equipment like a compass is no more due to technology.

GPS today has maps. Even better smartphones have both GPS and maps. This means you can find your location without necessarily having a compass.

Nevertheless, no technology comes without pain points. Batteries power these technologies. Due to this, it can run out of power at any time.

Now think about it this way. You are in the middle of a forest and your GPS is off. How will you trace your way home?

Given these points, a compass is important navigation equipment. So let us jump right in and see how.

Convenient and Easy to use

A compass is lightweight. As a result, you can hang it on your hiking backpack or around your neck. This will help you to travel light. That means you can always have it in a reachable location during hiking.

Does not require external power to operate

The biggest advantage of a compass is that it does not use batteries. So you‘ll never have problems with power.


Another good thing about a compass is its construction. This equipment is simple. Furthermore, it is built in a way that it can withstand bad weather. It also has a very low risk of breakage. So there is no worry no matter where you take it.


Affordability is another selling point of a compass. You can get a good compass at around 10 dollars. The good thing is that everyone can afford it.

How To Use a Compass

Compass Learning

Learning about the compass can sound old-fashioned in this digital era. Have you ever hiked or camped?

If yes, you know that the knowledge of a compass can save your life in the jungle. This is just one reason why you should know how to use a compass.

Learning how to use it is also easy. With a compass, you just need to know where North is. After that, you can find all the other cardinal directions.

A compass is more user-friendly than a GPS. You will have ease using it even if it is your first time.

But wait there’s more. A compass is free from disorientation problems. You can get scared if you go off-trail. Consequently, this may affect your judgment. Sadly, you may get lost even more.

New features can be difficult to distinguish. Again, this might affect your judgment or even risk your life.

However, the knowledge of a compass can save you from such disasters in the jungle. A compass is one of the reliable navigation equipment you can take everywhere.

Nonetheless, a hiking GPS is not foolproof. The batteries can die or it breaks or lose signal in the middle of hiking. Certainly, you will get lost in the bushes if you have no backup.

Luckily, a compass allows you to continue with your trail easily. As mentioned earlier, a compass is robust in construction.

What this means is that it can tolerate bad weather. Beyond this, it can also withstand impact while trekking in the woods.

That is not all. Unlike a GPS, a compass uses a magnetic field. This means it can work anywhere you take it.

Compass Terminology: Basic Terms

Compass learning can be difficult. It can be more confusing if you do not understand the basic terms. No matter how you will be using your compass. You need to familiarize yourself with the basic terms of a compass. Let us have a look at them;


It is the distance above the mean sea level.


It is the direction from one position to another position. In other words, it is also known as the bearing.

Azimuth housing

This is the main body of the compass. It contains both a magnetic needle and the azimuth ring. It rotates around the base to facilitate bearing readings.

Azimuth ring

This is the ring at the top side of the Azimuth housing’s outer edge. This ring features the rule markings.

Index Line

It is the point of intersection between the direction of the travel arrow and the Azimuth ring.


It is a permanent natural or man-made object with a known elevation. It serves as a reference point during navigation.

Cardinal points

These are the 4-main points of direction i.e. North, East, South and West.

Cardinal direction

This refers to the direction of the 4-main points of a compass.

Contour interval

This is the difference in height between one contour line to the next. It is expressed in feet and meters.

Contour line

It refers to the lines on topographical maps indicating the elevation of the land above sea level.


This refers to the error between the true north and the magnetic north. Important to note is that all maps are based on the true north. Consequently, magnetic compass needles are based on the magnetic north.

Declination Angle

It refers to the angle between the true north and the magnetic north.

Boxing the needle

It is the process of aligning the magnetic needle with the orienting arrow to determine a bearing.

What is inside the compass?

To make the most of your compass you must be familiar with its construction. Therefore, you can familiarize yourself with the following parts.


It is a hard flat surface mounting the compass. When holding a compass the part rest on your palm. You can also use it as a ruler to measure distances.

Compass dial

It is a ring marked with degrees from 0-360 on its outer edges.


It is a rotating ring around the compass capsule. It is always marked from zero to 359 degrees.

Compass Housing

This refers to a liquid-filled plastic bubble that holds the magnetic needle. The liquid inside allows for a free movement of the needle for a more accurate reading.

Orienting Arrow

This is the arrow that compass capsule. It rotates together with the housing. Therefore. it allows the baseplate to align with the magnetic needle. Finally, it also ensures the compass needle is pointing north at all times.

The direction of travel arrow

It is an arrow marked on the baseplate to guide the direction of travel using a bearing. It can also be used to read the bearing. It should always point in your intended direction.

Index Line

The index line is where the bearing is read. Moreover, do not forget, that a bearing is an angle relative to the true north.

The Magnetic Needle

It is a magnetized metallic stripe floating at the center of the housing. The magnetic north is painted red and the tail is black or white.

Orienting Lines

These are lines that align with the easting lines. They align you with the grid north. These lines sit and rotate with the housing like the orienting arrow. Finally, they ensure you align with the grid north.

Compass Navigation

When it comes to navigation using a compass this is what you need to do:

  • First set your declination
  • Then find a landmark that you easily identify on the map
  • Hold your compass flat on the map with the direction of the travel arrow pointing directly to the landmark.
  • Rotate the bezel until the magnetized needle sits inside the orienting arrow

To this end, you have your destination-oriented correctly with the nearby landmark. Most importantly, familiarize yourself with the map and the surroundings before you start your navigation. It is better to stay found than find yourself after you’re lost.

Understanding And Setting Declination Adjustment Of Compass

When it comes to mapping reading, always remember that the top of the map always points to the north. It is worth noting that most locations differ by a few degrees between the magnetic north and the true north. This difference in degrees is what we call the ‘declination’.

Always make an accurate adjustment for the declination to remain on track. For instance, one degree of error may lead you to the wrong destination. Nevertheless, before making the adjustment, first determine the declination value of your location.

Quite often, topographical maps list the ‘declination value’. Besides this, you should check the map revision date always. This is because the declination varies over time. You have two ways to correct the declination value.

1. Physical Offset

This option applies to compass models with a declination adjustment. To adjust the declination value you need to align the magnetic needle with the orienting arrow. You can do this by rotating the compass kit.

Your compass is adjusted if the ‘North is facing towards the ‘N’ and the other cardinal points are pointing in the right direction. Keep in mind that, you’re orienting it with the local magnetic field, not the true north. Therefore, always remember to re-adjust your declination every time you change your location.

2. Doing the Compass math

Generally, the orienting arrow is designed to point to the “N” of your compass dial. However, this is only possible if the compass does not have a declination adjustment. To correct the variation, you can add or deduct the declination value manually.

How to Take Bearing From Map

Let me say straight that bearings depend on the location you are reading from. Therefore, if you follow the same bearing from a different location it cannot take you to the same place.

Now that you know this, your bearing can take you to your preferred location anytime. All you need to know is your position on a map. Follow these steps to take your bearing from a map.

  • Set your compass on the map such that the straight side of the baseplate makes a straight line between your current position and the position of your destination on the map.
  • Ensure the direction of the travel arrow is aligned with the direction of your destination.
  • Rotate the bezel to align the orienting lines with the north-south grid lines
  • Read your bearing from the index line
  • While holding the compass on the map, ensure the direction of the travel arrow points to your destination.
  • Lastly, rotate your body to align the magnetic needle with the orienting arrow.
  • By now, the direction of travel is aligned to the bearing you’ve read.
  • Follow it to get to your destination.

Pros And Cons Of Compass for Hiking


  • Inexpensive so won’t spend a lot of money to acquire one
  • It is dependable no matter the weather or terrain
  • Being lightweight and pocket-sized which makes it ideal for traveling
  • It requires no batteries, so you just take it out of the box and it is ready for the task


  • It requires advanced skills to read it properly
  • Limited range of functions (just the north) without a map
  • It may not help if you’re completely lost in the woods

Final Verdict

Let us recap. Owning and knowing how to use a compass is itself a great investment. Although technology has suppressed the usefulness of a compass with digital Global Positioning Systems (GPS). A compass still has its benefits. These include being budget-friendly, reliable, convenient, and efficient.

Knowing how to use this simple equipment can guarantee you safe and hassle-free navigation. It is my hope that you found this guide helpful. Now get out there and find yourself a good hiking compass. Good luck and let me know what you settled for.

For more information learn here: https://www.wikihow.com/Use-a-Compass

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