The Best Ways USE A COMPASS? Full Descriptions

guy holding compass in hand

A compass will come in handy whenever you're lost and need to find your way back. Though it's not as precise as a GPS, you can use it for general navigation and orientation.

A compass is the easiest tool that will help you find out which direction you should head towards in order to get out of where you are and arrive at the destination you want. The good thing about using a compass is that it doesn't matter if you do not know where everything around you. With the compass all we need to do is make sure we follow certain steps and we'll be okay:

Step to use a compass

  1. Find out what point does north correspond with by putting your compass level on the map or ground so that it has an uninterrupted view of the surrounding landscape. In this way, one part of the needle (usually the red) will be pointing in the direction of north.
  2. Find out where your destination is located on the map or ground, and mark it with a small stick. This way you will know exactly where to aim when following the next step:
  3. Keeping everything as described above, turn around so that you are facing south and then put away any equipment that may obstruct your view of what's ahead of you. Then simply walk until you reach your destination while keeping an eye on the north-pointing needle. It sounds easy but remember: always keep an eye on your surroundings and never wander off alone.

What exactly is a compass?

A compass is a navigational instrument that consists of a magnetized pointer (usually marked on the North end) that aligns itself with Earth's magnetic field. Although compasses are heavily used to determine geographic direction, they can also be used to determine latitude and the location of an object.

Within the compass, there is a strong magnet and it is suspended so it can spin freely in any direction. The magnet inside the compass makes the needle always point north because all magnets have two ends: one pointing toward south and another pointing toward north. Every magnet has its own North and South pole which we call the North seeking pole and the South seeking pole. Even when you put 2 magnets near to each other, they always want to stay opposite from each other. The North seeking pole wants to face the North and the South seeking pole wants to face the South.

So whenever we take a compass and we make it point north and put it in one place and earth rotates (which means you rotate), your compass will be pointing at something different after some time. So if you know how fast it is rotating then you can find out where exactly that object was which you made your compass point at when your compass was not moving.

Find direction with compass:

  1. Just hold the compass flat in front of you with its needle on top set between 0 degrees (for latitude) and 360 degrees (for longitude) and then turn yourself and the compass together towards north seeking pole.
  2. Put a pencil, straw or any thin object east-west in front of you with east on your right side and west on your left side.
  3. Take a string and make one end fixed (you can use a wall for fixing) and put its other end to the center of the needle so it goes through needle hole. Now draw any circle around that point. Now take another string equal length as previous one but now half its length so the two strings are exactly parallel each other, tie both strings to one pencil or pin or nail etc at their midpoints, now pull these strings very tightly until they both go straight exactly perpendicular to the ground (that is, make sure the pencil or pin etc doesn't move in any direction when you pull them).
  4. Now put one end of this perpendicularly extended string to the center of the needle.
  5. Make two dots on paper where both strings touch when they go straight exactly perpendicular to the ground. Let's call these two points A and B. And draw a line between those two points with some kind of mark at 5 cm interval (in this way we can measure how much we are off from our desired path).
  6. Do as step 3 and 4 until you can see that your drawing is getting more accurate.


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Types of compasses

three different types of compasses

Compasses come in different types. We can divide all of them into two classes - magnetic compasses and GPS compasses. Magnetic compass is the most old version of compass that was used by sailors before there were any ships. This type of compass works on Earth's magnetic field (for example, if you go to some south-pointing place like Australia, your needle will point at Antarctica).

GPS (Global positioning system) compasses are not capable of finding North or South direction but they can tell you where exactly you are at the moment in terms of latitude and longitude.

How to use a GPS Compass?

  1. Find out which side is North using any method (for example, if your phone has built-in GPS then enable it and look for north symbol).
  2. Turn your device so that it points at where North is. If your phone doesn't have built-in GPS then you can use flashlight app to get better lighting in the dark or-if you are not in the dark then you can just point at the brightest star of the sky which will be Polaris otherwise known as'the North Star'.
  3. The line between two stars of Ursa Minor (they look like a big ladle, sometimes called'The Little Dipper') points at Polaris star. Now make sure that your phone is completely still because any slight movement might mess your direction calibration. Face the direction where you want to go and hold your phone in front of you.
  4. Now slowly turn around until Pointer (red-colored arrow) is pointing at Polaris. You can even put the app into slow mode if it's too confusing for you. Congratulations! You're now facing North (or South as case may be)

Remember that whenever you need to use a compass, always calibrate first, then wait for several seconds and make sure that your phone doesn't move at all before starting to follow directions on screen. This app has been tested on various devices but we cannot guarantee perfect results 100% of time since there are many factors and hardware/software combinations which might affect compass calibration process and result accuracy. If things turned out wrong, try calibrating again and/or reboot your device.

If you're using the app to find specific directions (e.g. what is West from this point), don't forget that your real compass must be set correctly! And for best results, you should also calibrate it as described previously before starting navigation.

How To Hold A Compass?

There is a certain way that a compass needs to be held for you to get accurate readings. If it's not done right, the displayed direction might not be accurate.

To hold a compass properly, place your thumb on top of the needle while holding it with your fingers on its side (not the edge). Doing this will ensure that your map is pointing in the same direction as the compass.

Techniques for holding a compass

There are two main techniques for holding a compass correctly. We will be going over each technique below.

  • Compass-to-Cheek Technique - This techniques requires you to hold the compass out in front of you while looking down. You'll then hold a finger on its side and angle it so that the edge faces you while your thumb rests on top of the needle. This technique is best used when holding your compass for longer periods of time.
  • Centerhold Technique - >This is the more common technique that is used to get directions from a compass. The user simply holds their compass in front of them with both hands, twists the needle so it is pointing north, and then holds the direction they want to go to.

How To Adjust A Compass?

There are many different compasses in various forms of usability. Some of them come in complex tools that include additional parts like inclinometer or built-in GPS, while others are just simple pieces of equipment capable only of showing you in which direction is north. In both cases, however, there is a possibility of needing to adjust your compass slightly. This can usually be done by using a small screw that needs to be turned in order to set the needle at an accurate angle. If you find your compass is off by more than thirty degrees, however, it would be recommended to get a new one.

What To Do If Your Compass Is Broken?

Sometimes you might find yourself in a situation where you need to use a compass and it isn't working. This can be due to a number of reasons, but the most common being that your needle got magnetized. In those situations here are some things that you can try below:

  1. Purchase a new compass
  2. Use another compass to rub the needle of your compass against.
  3. If that fails, use a small neodymium magnet or ferrite magnet (the ones that are built into some phones) and orient it North/South depending which side the needle is on; then turn until it aligns with what you know to be true.
  4. Another possibility is to use the sun. The sun will rise in the East and set in the West, so if your needle is stuck pointing South, place it along an East facing wall between 8 am and 12 pm; half way there would be at 9 am. If this doesn't work, consider using a car key or anything metal that isn't attracted by magnets (so no neodymium or ferrite magnets) and try gently dragging that across the needle; it should be attracted to some degree, but not too much.
  5. Another option is to find a nearby strong magnet and use this until your compass needle points North. You can also attract it with your truck key (North end of the key toward the needle). If you don't have access to a magnet like this, you could get creative and build one by stacking objects such as nails, paper clips, etc. on top of each other.
  6. The final option would be bring along a map of an area that has north pointing towards the top (such as Google Maps or many printed maps), then place your compass on top so the North pointer is pointing directly towards the real North Pole.

Place your compass on top of a map so the needle is pointing in the direction you want to go, and turn yourself so that the compass's needle lines up with'N' on your map. The orange arrow will now be pointing in the direction of travel.

In any case, if none of these methods have worked for you then it may be time to get a new compass.

How to Set Declination on a Compass

Declination is the difference in degrees between true north and magnetic north. These two locations shift, so compass reading needs to be adjusted for these variations.

When you set declination on a compass, it is necessary to change the difference between the needle and the place where you want to go. When this is completed, the navigator will not be turned by magnetic force.

To set declination on a compass:
  1. Place the compass on a flat surface and rotate it until you find a needle with a "N" on one end of the needle. This indicates that North is in this direction.
  2. Take out a sheet of paper and draw two lines down from where the needle points, creating an X shape. If your drawing looks like an X or + sign, then you have set declination correctly . If your drawing does not look like anything close to what you just drew, then repeat step 1 and go through several times until you get the hang of it.
  3. Once you have completed this task successfully, now is time to take out your map and place yourself somewhere along those lines drawn directly down from the direction where north is located.
  4. Now comes time for the easy part, following your map in the direction of where you are currently located. The compass needle should always point the way north . This is very important in case you get turned around in a place where there are no visible landmarks to guide your way.
  5. If this happens, then find out which way North is and hold your compass pointer that direction. You can use the sun or any other stable object to start moving until you are facing directly towards the north again.

Knowing how to read and use a compass is an important tool for any outdoors person, there are many reasons you might need to know this knowledge, whether it be survival or hiking in the woods; knowing where north is can save your life.

You can never trust your own judgment about which way you went if you don't have something like a compass to guide you back on track. Of course, there are two ways of doing this: following landmarks (including magnetic ones) or using a compass.

About Author:

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Hi, I'm Kevin Pommells, a lover of camping and the great outdoors as everyone says nowadays. I'm also a passionate soccer fan and the proud owner of, a website dedicated to helping campers and outdoor enthusiasts make the most of their adventures. With years of experience exploring the wilderness and a deep love for the sport of soccer, I'm always looking for new ways to combine my two passions and share my knowledge with others. Follow me for tips, tricks, and insights on all things camping and outdoor recreation.

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