How to find directions with a compass

(Fourth in a series)

What if you find a treasure map!?  I know, when has that ever happened to anyone?  But still – stay with me for a minute.

If you were to find a treasure map it’d likely to say things like, “walk 25 paces at a heading of 220 degrees from the old oak…”  or maybe, “30 paces straight west from the rock that looks like a witch’s nose.”

You’ll be glad you took the time to learn a few simple compass skills, like finding directions using a compass!

If you are given a heading, or direction in degrees, that is an indication of degrees to turn clockwise from north.  Directly east would be 90°, south would be 180°, west would be 270° (if you can just find the rock that looks like a witch’s nose), and back around the circle to north (which can be designated as  0° or 360°).

The way to use a map compass with a baseplate to find a direction is…

  1. Hold the compass level in front of you and turn the whole compass in your hand until the floating north-pointing needle lines up in the north box of the round bezel.
  2. Hold the round bezel still so that the floating needle stays lined up with the north box and turn the baseplate until the direction of travel (DOT) arrow lines up with the desired direction.  In the first treasure example above, you would turn the baseplate until DOT lined up with 220°.
  3. Now, so long as the needle stays lined up in the north box, the DOT arrow will point to your desired direction of travel.
  4. Stand behind the compass looking the direction that the DOT arrow is pointing.

Now that you know where a heading of 220° is, all you have to do is stand at the old oak tree and take 25 paces that direction.  Simple, right?

Not quite.  It turns out that people (that is, all human people)  have trouble walking in a straight line.  It has to do with one leg being longer or stronger than the other and terrain being uneven.  So even if you can use a compass to figure out where 220° is, it can be hard to get there.

So stay tuned for the next installment in this Basic Compass Skills series where we’ll learn how to walk in a straight line now that you know the right direction!

While you’re waiting for that next article, you might want to go back and review some of the previous compass skills articles:

Next in the series


Categories: Hiking, Skills, Survival

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