What you need to know about hiking with a compass

What you need to know about hiking with a compass

A casual hike is a wonderful experience. But the adventurous hiker may want to veer of the trail and into unknown lands. If you do, it’s best to be prepared, and be able to know where you are. You’ll need a map and compass. And some know-how!

What you need to know about hiking with a compass
What you need to know about hiking with a compass

Using a compass to mark your location

To pinpoint your position on a map, look for a recognisable landmark such as a prominent ridge or outcropping.

  • Hold the compass so that the direction-of-travel arrow points to the landmark.
  • Without moving the base plate, rotate the compass housing until the magnetic needle points to the angle of magnetic declination. The point on the dial in line with the direction-of-travel arrow is the bearing to your landmark.
  • You should then orient the map to north and place the top corner of the compass on the landmark.
  • With the needle still pointing to the angle of magnetic declination, draw a line along the edge of the base plate. Often you can fix your position along this line by studying the surrounding terrain.
  • To be sure, choose another landmark and repeat this process. The point where the two lines intersect will mark your location.

How a compass can lead the way

  • If you have established your position on the map and want to obtain a bearing to a particular destination, place an edge of the compass along the intended line of travel with the direction-of-travel arrow pointing in the direction of your destination.
  • Then turn the compass housing so that the orienting arrow points parallel with the grid lines. The point on the dial in line with the direction-of-travel arrow is your grid bearing.
  • To adjust for magnetic declination, position the compass over the declination diagram on the map.
  • Align the orienting arrow with the grid north line.
  • Keeping the base plate stationary, turn the dial so that the orienting arrow points to magnetic north.
  • Finally, place the compass in your hand and turn it until the magnetic needle lines up with the orienting arrow. The direction-of-travel arrow will point to your destination.

Every hiker should carry a compass and know how to use it. Get prepared for your hike with your compass and these simple instructions.


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