This is the important lesson, and you should learn it well.

Carolina OK - orienteering map and compass

Beginning orienteering usually doesn’t involve using a compass.  But, as you advance and want to take on off-trail terrain – it’s vital to use your compass in conjunction with your map to navigate.  Getting used to setting up and using a magnetic compass takes practice, practice, and more practice.  Thankfully, orienteering maps are already adjusted for magnetic declination – so you can use your compass very quickly on a course.

Here are a few things to remember about using a compass:

Most magnetic compass are fine for orienteering. But, a really good compass is specially made to keep the needle steady. This is done with a copper wire that runs around the bezel (round housing) and a ruby gemstone that balances the needle. Expect to pay more for these features.

  • Always hold the compass level and parallel to the ground and away from any metal that could interfere with the needle
  • Align the baseplate or sides of the compass with the north alignment lines (thin black ones that run up & down the map)
  • Align the the compass with the starting (where you’re at) and finishing point (your next control). The direction of travel arrow at the end of the compass must be pointing towards where you want to go.
  • Slowly rotate the compass housing until the orienting arrow or indicator on the bezel (round housing for the needle) and lines point N on the map. The bezel lines and/or orienting arrow should be parallel with the north alignment lines on the map.
  • Rotate the map and compass together until the red end of the compass needle points north.
  • Follow the direction of travel arrow on the compass, keeping the needle aligned with the orienting arrow on the housing.
  • You use a compass by traveling in the direction you want to go keeping the needle aligned with the oriented housing. If you see it outside the red area – adjust your direction and not the compass!