Map, Compass & GPS

Map, Compass & GPS
Wild flowers along Fall Creek on the way to the Green Lakes - Oregon

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Compass Techniques

Here are a few compass techniques to improve the accuracy of your magnetic compass procedures and readings

Outdoor Quest //Blake Miller image
A small error when using a compass can result in a significant error in measurement on the ground. To obtain accurate readings when using a compass try the following sampling of compass techniques:
Hold the compass level and steady so the needle swings freely.

Hold the simple baseplate compass waist high front of the body.

When using a compass with a sighting mirror hold the compass flat and eye level.

Directly face the object that is being measured. 

Magnetic fields and objects will give incorrect compass readings. Avoid taking readings near magnetic objects such as steel, iron (ferrous metals), vehicles, and clipboards.

Take bearings twice.

Account for magnetic declination.  Use a compass that can be adjusted for declination such as the Silva Ranger; it keeps your navigation simple.

When walking a bearing follow the direction of travel arrow, not the compass needle,

Use back bearings to ensure you are on track when navigating.

Occasionally a bubble will become present in the compass dial assembly.  Small bubbles generally develop into bigger bubbles.  Contact the manufacturer to see what help the can be.  Worst case, get rid of it.

A map always accompanies a compass.  Check out free maps at

I always carry a map and a compass.  Regardless if I am/am not carrying a GPS receiver the compass goes with me; it’s a part of my “ten essential systems.”  For serious trips (e.g., off trail, overnight) I will carry a small back up compass.  Everyone in a group should carry a compass too.

Navigation is a perishable skill and takes a lot of practice.  You don't need objects to be a long way off to achieve valuable readings.  Visit a park and make use of objects that about a mile away and practice your compass techniques.

Take a look at June Fleming's book "Staying Found."  It is a good read and provides a more complete look at compass techniques.
Outdoor Quest //Blake Miller image

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