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How to use Map and Compass while Hiking ?

When you plan for hiking that extends for days, never head up without a map and compass. Map and compass help you plan reasonable ideas considering the distances yet to cover.

Having a map and compass will help you indicate where to set up a tent, how to split the distance to take a break, and so on.

Learning about how to orient a compass and map is a skill. It is helpful for a person who loves outdoor activities like hiking.

Using a map and compass can be easy if you learn about them. Read further to gain more knowledge on maps and compass.

Anatomy of the Compass


A baseplate is a surface that holds the compass housing. Base plates are clear and transparent so that you can see the map beneath while checking on the directions.

Scales and rulers 

There are lines and numbers all over in the baseplate. Hikers can make use of this to mark the distance from one point to another. You have to settle the base plate on the map while marking distances.

The direction of travel arrow 

This arrow points the way you are going. This arrow is a triangle marking on the baseplate. You will be pointing it towards the way you are traveling.

Index line / Index pointer 

It is the end of the straight-line direction of the travel arrow. Index pointer ends at the edge of the dial.

Anatomy of the Compass

Dial / Rotating bezel 

It is also known as the 'azimuth ring’—the ring around the housing, marked in degrees from 0 to 360. The entire housing can be rotated by holding the dial.


Magnifier allows you to have a closer look at the small features of the map.

Declination scale / mark 

This scale helps you when the magnetic north and true north (geographical north) aren't the same.

Magnetized needle with red north 

The end of this needle is painted red which points to the magnetic pole usually. The needle is frictionless, and hence it moves freely when kept steady.

Oriental arrow 

These are arrows marked on the base of the housing. This helps in orienting a compass to a map. 

Oriental line 

These are parallel lines marked on the floor of the dial and the base plate. These lines rotate along with the bezel. Therefore, you can orient it with the map.


This is the main part of the compass, which is also known as needle housing. This part is filled with liquid and includes needles.

How to Navigate using Map and Compass

Navigation is a method of determining the position and distance traveled. You can easily navigate learning the use of a map and compass.

Adjusting the declination, orienting your map, and bearing are all steps of navigation using a map and compass.

Learn to adjust the Declination  

In Maps, the symbols showing directions ( East, West, North, South) are portrayed at the top.

But it is different in compass in which the Magnetic north shown by the needle is different from the true north.  True north is otherwise known as Geographic north.

The difference between the north geographic pole and the north magnetic pole is called declination. Also known as magnetic declination.

Always understand that the angle of declination differs from place to place. In some areas, the difference between the poles may be minimal, while it may be broader in some areas.

This declination value is important to set the compass accordingly. Only then can the compass locate appropriate directions, landmarks while hiking.

Some compass shows instructions about how to change the declination value. In some cases, if you can't change the declination value in the compass, remember to add and subtract while working with bearing.

how to orient your map

Orient your Map

  • Spread the map on the flat surface.
  • The due north of your declination adjusted compass dial must be tuned towards the index pointer.
  • While you place the compass on the map, make sure the direction of  travel arrow points towards the top of the map.
  • Rotate the bezel/dial to line up the north with the direction of the travel arrow.
  • The baseplate of the compass must be parallel to the north-south meridians on the map.
  • Keeping the map and compass steady, turn them concurrently until the end of the magnetic needle comes within the outline orienting arrow.

Take a Bearing

Bearing is all about working out in which direction an object or destination is from you. When you are hiking and feel that you are away from your camping, the bearing is a technique that helps you find your position on the map.

There are two types of bearing out on the track;  by map and by sight.

How to Take a Bearing Using a Map and Compass

Take bearing with the map to reach your destination
Take bearing with the map to know the distance of destination
  1. Draw a straight line between your current position (A) and the planned landmark(B)  you want to go on the map.  
  2. Line up the edge of the compass in the line pointing the travel arrow towards your destination.
  3. Until the north of the map and orienting arrow are aligned, rotate the azimuth ring/ bezel.
  4. You have to look at the index line to read the bearing.
Take bearing with the map to reach your destination
  1. Take the compass in your hand, separating it from the map.
  2. Hold the compass pointing the travel arrow away from you.
  3. Turn until the orienting arrow and magnetic needle line up together.
  4. Now the direction of arrow is facing the bearing, and you can move towards your destination(B).
Take bearing in the field  to know your location
  1. First, start finding a landmark   (make sure that that landmark can be easily located on the map).
  2. Hold the compass flat in your hand.
  3. The direction of the travel arrow in the compass must be pointed away from you and directly towards the landmark you found.
  4. Rotate the bezel to bring the magnetized needle inside the orienting arrow.
  5. The index line shows the bearing you captured.
Take bearing in the field to find where you are on a map
  1. Spread the map and lay the compass on it, aligning the straight edge corner with the landmark.
  2. You have to be precise that the direction of the travel arrow must point towards the landmark in the map.
  3. Rotate the baseplate until the north marker on the bezel points towards the north on the map.
  4. Along the straight edge of the compass, draw a straight line; now the line is drawn between the landmark and your position.
Take bearing in the field to find where you are on a map

Find your position using Triangulation

This is a process of finding your location in the same way but with two more landmarks. Find three to four landmarks at least 50 to 60 degrees away.

Finally, when you draw the lines on the map following the same steps, you will get a common point of intersection. The triangle formed by this intersection is the area of your position.

Find your position using Triangulation

Using a Compass To Take a Bearing Visually

This is the way of using a compass without a map.

  1. Hold the compass still.
  2. Point the travel arrow of the compass towards the destination. ( For example, if u see a mountain and need to go there, point the compass towards it )
  3. Rotate the bezel until the magnetized needle 'boxes' inside the symbol of orienting arrow.
  4. Keeping the needle and the housing intact, you can head towards the destination.
How to use map and compass while hiking

Make sure that you always carry a compass and map you are comfortable with. If you are a beginner, go through the article and given links to get more information.

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compass, map reading

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