How To Use A Compass (Video)

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Using a compass is a skill which few people know how to do today. It is an essential wilderness skill in order to find your way around using a map or even by itself. In order to use a compass, you must be familiar with its parts. When you look at a compass, that floating needle in the middle is magnetized and the red end is always pointing towards magnetic north. Try to keep your red arrow inside the red box so that your compass always tells you the correct direction you’re headed. When you are facing north, the magnetized arrow should be pointing to the end on the compass and you should be directly in line with that arrow. To your right will be the east, to your left will be the West and behind you will be the South.

Whenever you are traveling by compass and map, remember to breakdown the journey into smaller steps. If you have to head northwest, break it down going North first and then West, so that it is easier to actually arrive at your destination. Trying to go directly northwest the entire time may get you lost if you’re new to traveling by compass. A lot of people try to go directly northwest because it is a shorter trip, but getting lost is never shorter.

Make sure that your floating needle always lines up with the end for North. If you’re using a map make sure that your needle, the end on the compass, and the lines for metal magnetic north line up on the map. There should be a compass rose on the map indicating which way the compass should be placed.

Hold the compass flat in front of you and make sure the direction of travel arrow points straight and ahead of you while keeping your magnetic north needle pointed at the N. This means if you want to head West, the W should be directly in front of you with your body behind it but the needle which always points N should be pointing towards the N.  When you look in the direction you are heading, find a landmark that stands out, such as a large rock, a cliff, a waterfall or a big tree and head towards that. Once you hiked that landmark you will stop, regroup and start all over again to head ultimately to your destination. This is a simplified navigation system and there are more detailed complex ways which will be more accurate once you gain more skill.

Something that should be noted is that the magnetic needle will always point towards magnetic north, but north itself is not a fixed point. Magnetic north moves by a couple of inches every year and so it will move on the compass slightly every year. True north and magnetic north are about 800 miles apart due to the shifting nature of earth’s magnetic field. A very helpful map will always note the year it was printed and the rate at which magnetic north had been shifting which is called the declination. That’s because the declination in 2000 is vastly different than the declination in 2020. Navigating by compass is much easier to learn by doing it, so practice makes perfect.


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