When it comes to outdoor navigation, a compass is one of the most important tools you can have. Whether you're hiking, backpacking, or exploring the backcountry, a compass can help you stay on course and avoid getting lost. In this blog post, we'll go over everything you need to know about how to use a compass for outdoor navigation.

In the modern age of smart phones, may rely on digital maps for navigation. But never forget that this relies on a working phone with battery, if something were to go wrong, what would you do?

That's why it's important to alway carry a compass as a backup form of navigating. At KEA we offer these in all our KEA KIT as well as in our KEA Signal Pack, so you're always prepared. Now without further adieu, let's start by learning about the compass itself. 

Parts of a Compass

Before we dive into how to use a compass, let's take a moment to go over the different parts of a compass. A typical compass consists of a base, a rotating housing with a compass rose, and a magnetic needle that points north. The compass rose is marked with the cardinal directions (north, south, east, and west) and often includes additional markings for intermediate directions (northeast, southwest, etc.).

Steps for Using a Compass

Step 1: Orient the Map

Before you can use a compass, you need to orient your map. This means aligning the map so that north on the map corresponds to north in the real world. To do this, place your compass on the map with the baseplate along the bottom edge of the map. Make sure the compass housing is lined up with the north-south grid lines on the map. Rotate the map and compass together until the compass needle aligns with the orienting arrow in the compass housing.

Step 2: Set the Compass Bearing

Once the map is oriented, you can set your compass bearing. This means selecting a direction on the map and using the compass to determine the corresponding direction in the real world. To do this, place the compass on the map with the baseplate along the line of your desired direction. Rotate the housing until the north-south lines on the housing are aligned with the north-south lines on the map. Read the bearing (in degrees) from the compass housing.

Step 3: Follow the Bearing

With your compass bearing set, you're ready to follow it in the real world. Hold the compass level and steady, and turn your body until the compass needle is aligned with the orienting arrow in the housing. The direction you're facing now corresponds to the direction of your desired bearing. Use the sights on the compass to find a landmark in the distance that lines up with your bearing. Walk toward the landmark while keeping the compass needle aligned with the orienting arrow.

Tips for Using a Compass

  1. Keep your compass level and steady. If your compass is tilted or jostled, the needle won't point in the right direction.

  2. Take frequent readings. It's a good idea to take compass readings at regular intervals to make sure you're still on course.

  3. Use a map and compass together. A compass is a great tool, but it's even better when used in conjunction with a map.

  4. Practice, practice, practice. The more you use a compass, the more comfortable and confident you'll become with it.

  5. Don't forget about declination. Magnetic north (the direction the compass needle points) and true north (the direction of geographic north) are not the same. You'll need to adjust for this difference, known as declination, to ensure your compass readings are accurate.

In conclusion, a compass is an essential tool for outdoor navigation. By following these steps and tips, you'll be able to use a compass to stay on course and avoid getting lost in the backcountry. Remember to always carry a compass and practice your skills before heading out on your next adventure, it may just mean the difference between life and death!