Using a compass seems to be a lost art. Today, people use free compass apps on their phone. While helpful, learning the art of the old compass is important – and something worthwhile even if you never go venturing into the woods or out on the sea.
The compass is considered the basic survival tool required for navigation. Along with a topographical map, you could never get lost if you knew how to properly use a compass.
The Basics of a Compass
Before you learn how to read a compass, you must first learn the land of the compass. There are several components, which include the baseplate, the direction arrow, the compass housing, the degree dial, the needle, the orienting arrow, and the orienting lines.
Next, you must hold the compass the right way. That mean placing the compass on your palm and putting your palm flat in front of your chest. This is called the “compass stance” and it helps you travel correctly. If you are looking at a map, put the map on a flat surface and then the compass atop the map for an accurate read.
Finding True North
True north is not always easy to find, but to orient yourself, you need to find out what way you are traveling. Look at the magnetic needle. When you move, it should sway to a side or another. If you are facing north, it will point north.
Turn the degree dial on the compass until the orienting arrow lines up with the magnetic direction arrow. Point both to the Northern direction. Then, find a general place you are facing and look at the direction of your arrow. If the direction says it is between the two points, then you are properly faced.
True north is different from magnetic north. True north refers to the point where longitudinal lines meet on the map, such as the North Pole. All maps are the same, and True North is at the top. Your compass will not point to true north. Instead, it points magnetic north.
Magnetic north is the tilt of your magnetic field, which is 11 degrees from Earth’s axis tilt and as much as 20 degrees in others. It does not actually point to the true north; instead, you would have to account for the shift of the earth’s tilt to get a more accurate read on where true north is.
A digital compass may be more accurate, however once they are no longer on the correct bearing, they can be very inaccurate. So, maintain your digital compass.
What is Orienteering?
Orienteering is an unknown, but fun, competitive sport. You use a compass and find your way to various checkpoints through a rough country grid. You can only use the map and the compass to find your way, and the winner is the person that goes through the course in the least amount of time.
Whenever you are hiking or orienteering, make sure you bring along a map that offers terrain insight as well as your compass and see how far you can go without modern technology.