How to Use a Compass While Hiking

How to use compass when hiking

Compass, which is an object that we all know about, makes it easy to spot the direction of the North. There are other lesser-known compasses that use for hiking as well. So without forgetting anything, I offer you in this article a complete summary of how to use a compass while hiking.

How to use a compass while hiking – step by step

Presentation of the tool

When hiking and for your orientation, you will find on your compass the famous red needle which indicates to you the direction of the North. But not only that, on your plate compass, you will find:

  • A measurement scale adapted to your map at 1: 25000 or at 1: 50,000
  • A sighting arrow
  • A rotating compass dial

All these elements will allow you to use fully the compass and to find your way easily.

The different uses of the compass

The classic use: orient your map

The most classic best known and most obvious use compass will allow you to orient your map and know in which direction to go. You know that all the maps are oriented to the North. Thanks to your compass, you will be able to identify where the North is. Also, orient your map correctly to know in which direction you must go to reach your objective.

To do this, you will have to put your map flat then put the compass on it and then simply turn the map until the North of the compass matches the North of the map.

Triangulation: finding your way on a map

A little less known use but very useful when you are lost. The compass accompanied by your map can allow you to locate yourself on it, thanks to the triangulation method.

Indeed, it is one of the little-known uses of the compass that can be a great help to you in certain situations. For this, you will need to have landmarks visible in the landscape and easily identifiable on the map. It could be, for example, a summit, a village, a waterfall, a forest, etc… For this to work you will need at least 3 landmarks.

Once these benchmarks have been identified, it will be necessary:

  • Point out the reference point with the aiming arrow.
  • Rotate the compass dial to match the North of the compass with the arrow of the compass.
  • This makes it possible to note an angle on the dial of the compass that will be noted to transfer it to the map.
  • I repeat the operation with the other 2 benchmarks.

Once the 3 angles are known, it remains to transfer them to the map. For that, I will:

  • Turn the compass dial to the measured angle.
  • Point the landmark of the map with the aiming arrow by aligning the North of the map with the North of the compass dial.
  • I draw the line at the start of the reference point.
  • I repeat the operation with the other benchmarks.

The crossing of the 3 lines is therefore my position on the map, so it can be interesting to take stock of the situation when you are hiking or if you are lost.

Heading: finding the most direct path to a given point

The last use of the compass is also unknown, it is the displacement to the heading which makes it possible to find the shortest way to go from point A to point B, without following a given path.

This can be useful when you need to get straight to a point more quickly through a forest or a field without taking the usual trails. For this method, I will work in reverse of triangulation, so I have to know where I am on the map and where I want to go.

To use this function with your compass, you will need:

  1. Draw with the edge of the compass the path you want to take from the starting point to the ending point.
  2. Rotate the compass dial until the North in the basemap matches the North of the compass dial.
  3. Read the angle on the compass. This angle is called Azimuth.
  4. Place the North hand in the North of the dial background.
  5. Follow the azimuth while walking. It shows you the most direct path from point A to point B.

You now know all the intricacies of using the compass and are armed to set off with your compass and your map without the risk of getting lost and even having the possibility to think outside the box!


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