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How to Navigate with a Compass

Know how to use a compass and you'll never get lost in the wild. Follow these simple steps and you'll learn this valuable skill.


  • Step 1: Learn the parts Learn the basic parts of a compass, including the floating needle with a red tip, and the housing – the movable round piece containing the needle. The housing is labeled with direction and degree marks. The direction-of-travel arrow is marked on the base.
  • TIP: A baseplate compass, which includes a direction-of-travel arrow, is best for beginners.
  • Step 2: Hold it correctly Hold the compass in your palm, close to your body at waist level, so you can look straight down at it and hold it level. This allows the floating needle to move freely.
  • Step 3: Turn around Look at the floating needle, which always points north. Turn slowly around in a circle, holding the compass in front of you, and notice that the needle keeps pointing in the same direction.
  • Step 4: Choose a direction to travel Rotate the housing until your desired direction aligns with the direction of travel arrow on the baseplate. To travel southeast, for example, set the arrow between the S and the E.
  • Step 5: Adjust for magnetic declination Rotate the housing slightly to compensate for declination. A compass points to magnetic north, which differs from true north by several degrees depending on your location.
  • TIP: Check your map for the declination in your area, or look it up online.
  • Step 6: Walk that way Hold the compass in front of you and turn until the floating arrow tip lines up with the N on the housing.
  • Step 7: Navigate with a map Find your starting point and destination on the map. Align the baseplate with these two points and rotate the compass housing to align its N and S markings with north and south on the map.
  • Step 8: Find north and go Adjust for declination, and then hold the compass in front of you, turning until the floating arrow lines up with the N on the housing. Walk, following the direction of travel arrow.
  • FACT: The earth's magnetic field reverses every an average of once every 250,000 years, but the last time this occurred was nearly 800,000 years ago.

You Will Need

  • A compass
  • A map
  • A baseplate compass (optional)
  • A computer with internet access (optional)

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