Beginners Guide To Using Compass For Camping Or Hiking

using a compass

Hiking and camping are two great outdoor activities that many people love. Sometimes you can choose to leave your known trail and explore other unknown places. This might seem an interesting thing to do but it becomes a nightmare when you can’t trace your way back.

If you don’t know where you are or are headed, your outdoor experience can be frustrating. That is why any outdoor enthusiast should have the right navigation tools in their backpack.

A compass is an essential navigation tool you need to carry when hiking or camping. Having a compass is not enough, you should also know how to use it. Check our beginner's guide to using a compass for camping or hiking.

Directions and Parts of a Compass
  • Before you understand how to read a compass, you should be familiar with the four cardinal points of a compass. They include:
  • North
  • East
  • West
  • South
directions and parts of a compass

There are different parts that make up a compass. As a beginner, understanding these parts is crucial to help you with navigation. Below are the parts of a compass.

  • Base plate : This is the clear part below the compass that helps you see the map. Additionally, it is useful when taking bearing and triangulation.
  • Travel arrow : This is an essential part of a compass that shows the direction you are headed.
  • Index line : It extends from the travel arrow and helps you know where to view the bearings.
  • Rotating bezel : This refers to the circular part that is marked from 0-360 degrees.
  • Magnetized bezel : The inside of a compass has a spinning needle that always points to the magnetic north.
  • Orienting arrow : It is a non-magnetic arrow in the compass housing that lines up the bezel with the map directions.
  • Compass housing : This is the clear plastic part that covers the magnetic and nonmagnetic needles.
  • Orienting lines : They are lines in the compass that are parallel to the orienting arrow.

How to Read a Compass

After knowing the directions and the parts of a compass, it will be easier for you to learn how to use a compass. Follow these tips to help you use a compass the right way.

  1. Stay away from buildings and structures like high-voltage power lines and metal structures that can affect the reading results.
  2. Place your compass in your arms while your elbow is 90 degrees at your chest level.
  3. Find the direction you are headed by turning the degree dial on the compass housing. Ensure the arrow lines up completely with the magnetic needle. The direction the arrow on the baseplate points shows your heading.
  4. Next, determine the direction/bearing of landmarks far away like hills, mountains or lakes. To do this, turn towards the landmark and follow the same process of finding your heading. Once you have the bearing, begin to walk towards it even if there are other things obstructing the landmark. Take readings frequently to ensure you are on the right track.

What to Check in a Compass

checking a compass

If you are considering buying a compass, there are some essential things you should check. Always check these features.

  • Simplicity : As a beginner, you don’t need the most complicated compass to help you find your location. Choose a user-friendly compass to make your work easier.
  • Resolution : A compass with high resolution makes navigation easier.
  • Reliability : Your compass should be reliable enough to give you the right direction. If you get lost, you can be sure it is pointing in the right direction.
  • Affordability : You don’t need to buy the most expensive compass for hiking and camping. As a beginner, you can get affordable compasses that work well.
  • Declination Adjustment : A compass with this feature comes at a high price. This is an essential feature you should consider and such a compass can serve you for many years.


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Compasses have been there for many centuries, and they are effective in helping you find your way back. If you love camping and hiking, always carry your compass to avoid getting lost while in the wild. We have given you a beginner guide on how to use a compass and other basic things you should know about a compass. With the information, enjoy your trails without worrying about getting lost.

About Author:

image of Kevin Pommells

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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