How to Use a Compass

Are you lacking direction Having a hard figuring out where to go Well, if you are out in woods learning to read a compass properly will help you know which way to go. This is a very easy lesson and is more than enough for people traveling in somewhat familar terrain.

How To:

  • Hold the base plate compass flat in front of your chest so that the compass needle floats freely and points to magnetic north. (The only thing a compass needle can do is point to magnetic north.)
  • Rotate the entire compass housing until the needle sits within the orienting arrow stenciled onto the base of the compass housing. (Usually the orienting arrow is red.) The zero degree mark on the compass housing and the north end of the needle should be aligned – now both of the arrows are pointing to magnetic north.
  • Keep the orienting arrow and the compass needle pointing north. Twist the base plate until the direction-of-travel line points exactly at the distant landmark you wish to move toward. Double-check to make sure everything is still properly aligned.
  • Note the exact number of degrees marked on the compass dial where the direction-of-travel line intersects the compass dial. That number of degrees is the direction to the distant landmark.


  • If you take your time and are accurate in your measurement you should be within 1 degree of exact.
  • If you measure the exact direction to a distant landmark, that specific direction will keep you traveling toward the landmark even when you can’t see it.

Note: Don’t confuse the north end of the compass needle with the south end.

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