6 Steps to Navigating with a Map and Compass

You can see where you are on the map and you know where you want to go. But you still don't know which direction to actually start walking! Here's how to use a compass to find your way.

Image courtesy of Jean Baulch

Image courtesy of Jean Baulch

First you need to take a bearing on the map (note that at this stage the magnetic needle isn’t actually relevant)

Step 1:  Place the compass on the map so that the long edge of the baseplate lines up point A (where you are) with point B (where you want to go), ensuring that the direction of travel arrow marked on the baseplate points in the direction you want to go.

Step 2:  Rotate the circular bezel of the compass housing so that the orienting lines are aligned with the vertical north-south grid lines of the map, ensuring that the red orienting arrow is pointing towards north on the map.

Step 3:  Read the grid bearing, which is the number that is now lined up with the index line (an extension of the direction of travel arrow) at the outer edge of the compass housing .

Step 4:  Subtract the grid/magnetic angle to convert the grid bearing to a magnetic bearing, and then rotate the circular bezel of the compass housing so that this new value now lines up with the index line.

Note: The grid/magnetic angle will be stated on any good topographic map. It is positive where magnetic north is east of grid north, and negative where magnetic north is west of grid north. Keep in mind that subtracting a negative grid/magnetic angle will actually increase your bearing.

Compass Features.jpg

Now you're ready to follow the bearing in the field (this is the stage at which the magnetic needle does become relevant)

Step 5:  Hold the compass in front of you ensuring that it is level and away from metallic objects, then turn your whole body until the red north end of the magnetic needle lines up with the red orienting arrow.

Step 6:  Go in the direction indicated by the direction of travel arrow.

Want to head out on the trails this season, but don't have the confidence to find your way? Join up for one of our Essentials of Navigation Courses.