How To Use A Compass

Are you planning to trek solo to Everest Base camp? Well, that sure is an exciting adventure. But what about the route to take? You immediately check Google Map for the best, and you are shocked!

According to the GPS, the route is undetectable. So, do you cancel the trek entirely?

No, because Compass is what will navigate you to reach the top.

It’s imperative that you learn how to use a Compass because the trek through the Himalaya is not detectable in our ultra-hi-tech navigation system GPS.

how to use a compass

Find your way with precision - use a compass for accurate navigation.

We are living in the age of smartphones and GPS. Google Positioning System has become such an essential part of our lives that we cannot operate without it. However, it’s the old-fashioned Compass that works as the accurate navigational system where Network towers are unavailable.

Using a compass may look easy, but there are many small technical details and notes that one needs to be aware of to use the Compass accurately. Understanding a Compass starts at the basics where first you need to know about the types of Compasses available.

Different Types of Compasses

Baseplate Compass

It is the most commonly used variant that allows directional North detection. However, the lack of extra functionality makes detecting distant objects impossible.

Card Compass

Also known as Marine Compass, it is used for navigation in boats. The fluid on which the compass needle floats acts as a buffer to prevent wobbling of the directional needle during unsteady boat movement.

Lensatic Compass

Used by US Force, they are incredibly robust and accurate in detecting navigation north.


Used in Water vessel this type of Compass detects true north instead of Magnetic field North due to the working principle based on Law of Gravity.

Prismatic Compass

They work based on the sighting of the distance to an object in proximity.

Thumb Compass

Used primarily in competitive sports the Compass is designed to allow the user to hold the map and the Compass in a single hand while driving or riding.

Electronic Compass

These are highly accurate in the detection of locations. However, they need a power source to work and does not work well with Maps.

The second aspect, one needs to be aware of is the various components of a compass that assist in navigation.

The Parts of a Compass Include

  • Baseplate.
  • Index Line.
  • Magnetized Needle.
  • Orienting Arrow.
  • Rotating Bezel.
  • Declination Scale.
  • Map scales 1:25 000, 1:50 000 and metric measurer (In some of the Compass).
  • Once you have an idea about the Compass that is best suited for your needs, you need to know the third most crucial fact — the identification of the directions. The Compass guides one by helping in detecting the North face first.

    True North and Magnetic North

    True North and magnetic North may not always be the same. It’s essential to know the difference in between both if you do not want to get lost in the wilderness.

    True North is based on the Longitudinal lines running from the North Pole to the South Pole. Maps are designed based on these specific line alignments. However, changes in the magnetic field can result in deflection of the compass needle a few degrees to the east or west.

    It might sound harmless, but a small deviation from the directional North can cause one to move eastward or westward from the original route.

    So, it is essential to know the correct method to detect such issues and resolve beforehand.

    Final Step is to Learn How to Use a Compass Right Way

    To operate the Compass ideally, one needs to know how to read a map. Based on the longitudinal aspects in a map, a compass helps in navigating the right direction.

    Romer scale attachment in some compasses helps in assessing the distance based on the tomographic principle of distance measurement.

  • It is important to place the map on an even and flat surface before marking the direction of movement using a compass.
  • Once the map assessment is done, hold the Compass steadily parallel to the ground and in the direction of movement.
  • Makes sure to rotate the dial, so that the N aligns perfectly with the red mark on the Compass.
  • The declination scale on the Compass helps in detecting and correcting the minute inclination difference between True North and Magnetic North.
  • Check the index line figure along the rim to check the heading.
  • Following a bearing is the next step where you need to find the exact bearing and proceed.
  • Once the orienting line of the Compass is on the point line towards the direction of the route, rotate the dial without touching the Compass or the map to point the orienting line towards geographical North.
  • Holding the Compass precisely in the same position begin to walk towards the direction pointed by the oriental line. The direction of travel arrow is indicated towards the allocated location on the map.
  • Compasses are often more effective navigation aid than modern day GPS. However, it only works in your favor if you genuinely know how to use a compass properly.

    Video for: How to Use a Compass

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