How do you use a compass when orienteering?

How do you use a compass when orienteering featured

Understanding Orienteering and Compass Basics

Orienteering is an exciting outdoor activity that requires navigational skills using a map and compass. To navigate through unfamiliar terrains, a compass plays an essential role in helping you maintain your bearings and stay on course. Compasses come in many designs, but the basic components are always the same. They have a magnetic needle that points north and a rotating housing that allows you to read the azimuth, a degree of angle measurement, from 0 to 360. In this article, we will provide a step-by-step guide on how to use a compass when orienteering.

Step-by-Step Guide on Using a Compass for Orienteering

The following are simple steps to follow when using a compass for your orienteering adventure:

Orient the Map

Place the map on a flat surface and make sure it’s facing the correct direction by matching the features around you on the map. Orienting the map allows you to match the magnetic north on the compass to the north on the map.

Align the Compass

Hold the compass flat against the map with the direction of travel arrow pointing towards your destination and the compass baseplate lined up with the starting and end points. Rotate the housing so that the magnetic north arrow aligns with the north on the map.

Establish a Bearing

Rotate the housing to make sure that the magnetic north arrow is pointing to zero on the azimuth. Place your thumb on the base of the compass and rotate your body until the magnetic arrow is aligned with the compass needle. Once aligned, the direction of travel arrow will point in the direction you need to travel.

Follow the Bearing

Hold the compass level and in front of you and walk in the direction of the direction of travel arrow. Repeat these steps at checkpoints along the way to ensure you stay on course.

Tips for Successful Orienteering

Orienteering can be challenging, and it’s easy to get lost without a clear understanding of how to use a compass. Here are some additional tips to help you navigate through the terrain with ease.


Before heading out on a hike, practice using your compass at home. Familiarize yourself with the compass components and practice taking bearings in different directions.

Understand Terrain Features

Knowing the terrain around you and understanding the terrain features on your map can help you orient yourself better. Keep an eye on the landmarks around you on the map and use them to double-check your position.

Recheck Your Bearings

As you travel, always double-check your bearings at each checkpoint to ensure that you are on the right track. Keep your compass level and wait for the needle to stop moving before taking your bearing.

Use a GPS

If you’re navigating through unfamiliar territory or want to keep track of your progress, consider using a GPS device or a smartphone app. It can provide you with detailed information about your location and help you navigate through the terrain with ease.

Using a compass when orienteering can appear challenging, but with practice and these simple steps, you can easily master the skills needed for successful navigation. Remember to read your map carefully, understand your terrain and always double-check your bearings to ensure a safe and enjoyable outdoor or orienteering activity.

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