How To Read A Compass

readning a compass Knowing how to read a compass may seem to be a skill that is no longer required with cell phones with GPS. But you might be in an area without a signal or your battery might be drained and you’ll have to rely on it. It’s also fun to know and use for camp activities and to teach your children and others.  For these reasons it is a useful skill for hiking and camping and when trying to determine directions and where your next should be or just for fun.

Here are tips on learning how to use a compass:

The first step is to under how it works:

A compass is a circular instrument with a magnetized needle that rotates to point to magnetic north. Magnetic north is not the same as true north and this needs to be borne in mind as there is a margin of error which is greater the closer to true north you get. For most uses it is not enough error to be really concerned about. (I just mentioned it for completeness really).

The magnetic needle has one end that is painted red and it points to north. It works because of the earth’s magnetic field, but other magnets, iron and steel in other objects can interfere with it or traveling in a car. So keep these away from it when you wanting to use it.

The face of the compass is split up into 360 points or degrees. The 4 cardinal points of the compass – North, East, South and West are evenly spread around the compass and are marked. North is positioned at 0 or 360 degrees, East is at 90 degrees, South at 180 degrees and West is at 270 degrees.  Other points in between these are marked out like North-West which is 315 degrees (halfway between North and West).

Using The Compass

When you want to use it, you should hold it flat in the palm of your hands and close to your chest to hold it steady. Be sure to keep it away from things that can interfere with it, as mentioned above. On the compass is an arrow and you should turn so that it is pointing in the direction you wish to go.  Then turn the dial so that North is in line with red point of the needle.  The arrow of the compass will then be lined up with a number that lets you know your compass bearing.

Alternatively if you know the bearing you need to go and want to find what direction that is in, you turn the compass dial until that is lined up with the arrow. Holding the compass as described above you turn until the needle of the compass is lined up with north. The arrow on the compass will be pointing in the direction you want to go.

A Game You Can Play

A camping activity you can try to teach and is fun is to map out a trail and use compass bearings to give directions. You can either have it that people have to reach a certain object or walk a number of yards (paces) before using the next direction. When they reach the end of the trial there can be some sort of reward or treasure.

As mentioned above you might not ever need to use a compass, but if you do you will be glad you know how to use it. It makes for a cheap and light backup plan for if you have problems with the latest electronic gadget.  Also learning to use a compass and map is much more fun than reading a GPS screen.

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