How to Never Get Lost During a Hike – The How to of Using a Compass

tips for using a compass

It is not a common occurrence to use a map and compass when hiking. Normally, you will be hiking a popular trail that has been groomed and it will be fairly hard to get lost. Other times, you will still be in service so that you can use Google Maps on your phone. However, for those people that adventure off the beaten path and really want to explore the backcountry, this article is a must read for you.

Understanding how to use a map and compass is a skill that does not seem that important until you need it. By knowing the basics of using a compass and what to look for when buying a compass, you will be able to up your hiking game to the next level.


How to use a map and compass?

While this might seem simple, you do not simply follow the moss on the trees. Use these four basics steps outlined below to help you find your direction:

  1. Draw a line from your starting position to your final destination: When looking at your map, you will know (hopefully) your current location and where you want to go. After identifying those two spots, make a straight line connecting the two. After that, line up your base plate of your compass with the direction that you are wanting to travel.
  2. Align the dials north: Rotate the dial, orientation arrow, and orientation lines so that they are facing north. Most maps have north facing up, but a quick double check could save you a massive headache in the long run, since some maps do not abide by the common standards.
  3. Adjust the arrows: Remove the compass from the map, have the directional arrow point straight in front of you, and then turn your body until the magnetic arrow is pointing to the North (“N”). Once you are facing the right direction, find a specific landmark in the distance and start walking towards that.
  4. Repeat: Depending on how far away you are from your destination, you will need to reevaluate your location multiple times.

The steps described above are for beginners using a compass and map. The steps are general enough that they will work if a hiker does not need exact accuracy of the locations and has not traveled an extremely long distance. But, if you are interested in learning more, research declination, the specific details that each compass has, and the impact on using a compass.

What to look for when buying a map and compass?

Similar to using a compass, there are the basic methods and then there are the advanced methods.

A basic recommendation: Silva Polaris Baseplate Compass

For the basic, here are the few items to look for when buying a compass:

  1. Magnetized needle: The red end of the needle.
  2. Rotating bezel: This is the ring that has all the number of degrees.
  3. Baseplate: The clear plate that is the base to the compass. It usually comes with a ruler so you can measure distances on maps.
  4. Orientation arrows and lines: The markings near the needle and the main arrow that you will use to face a direction.

An advanced recommendation: Eyeskey Military Optical Lensatic Sighting Compass

For more advanced (and therefore, optional), here are a few items to consider:

  1. Sighting mirror: Allows for more accuracy when looking at a distant landmark.
  2. Declination adjustment: True north and magnetic north differ in degrees, which can make a large difference if accuracy is a strong requirement.
  3. Clinometer: Measures the steepness of a slope, which also pays off when you are hiking in potential avalanche territory.

In summary, there are different levels of compass and map users. Similarly, there are plenty of different options you can choose from when buying a compass. By connecting your starting point to the final destination, aligning the dials, adjusting the arrows, and repeating, a beginner will be able to arrive in the general location that they desired. When buying a compass, keep in mind that you will need the basics such as: a magnetized needle, rotating bezel, baseplate, and orientation arrows and lines.

Now that you know how to work a compass and a map, branch off from the trails that are the popular tourist traps and take on a whole new meaning of hiking and adventure. There is so much unchartered land for you to explore and by knowing how to use a compass, you now have a chance to find it.

It's important to always consider your safety and this article outlines the best use of navigation, other safety considerations are protection from the sun​, read on for tips on this matter

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