How to use a compass?

How to use a compass?

This is a discussion on How to use a compass? within the Off Topic & Humor Discussion forums, part of the The Back Porch category; I want to learn how to navigate with a compass. I've checked out a few books at the library, but I'm hoping for some good ...

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Thread: How to use a compass?

  1. #1
    Member Array Dolphin's Avatar
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    How to use a compass?

    I want to learn how to navigate with a compass. I've checked out a few books at the library, but I'm hoping for some good links or real world experience re; choosing a compass, tips, etc.
    I don't want to be solely dependent on electronic devices.

  2. #2
    JD is offline
    Array JD's Avatar
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    *Moved out of the Reference Section*

  3. #3
    Senior Member Array CCWFlaRuger's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dolphin View Post
    I want to learn how to navigate with a compass. I've checked out a few books at the library, but I'm hoping for some good links or real world experience re; choosing a compass, tips, etc.
    I don't want to be solely dependent on electronic devices.
    Honestly, I don't know where to start. Google would be square 1. I haven't looked up any of that in so long, I wouldn't be much help.

    I was taught all that decades ago in the Boy Scouts and it is one of those things that stuck, like "Be Prepared". If you have a kid, I would recommend the scouts if for no other reason than outdoorsmanship and orienteering, but, TJMO.
    "You will not rise to the occasion and you will not default to your level of training. You WILL ONLY default to the level of training you have mastered."
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  5. #4
    VIP Member Array Tally XD's Avatar
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    Well, this is certainly not all of it, not even close, but just remember that to use a compass you usually need a map as well. YOu can use a compass if you are very familiar with the area you are in, but, then you wouldn't need a compass!

    Just remember a compass needle will always point north. You need to orient your map correctly. Use the compass needle to find north, orient the needle image on your map to point to north. Once you have done that you now can navigate. That is a whole lot more to learn.

    Couple of links:
    "Engage your brain before you engage your weapon" - James "Mad Dawg" Mattis

  6. #5
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    Array rstickle's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tally XD View Post
    Just remember a compass needle will always point north. You need to orient your map correctly. Use the compass needle to find north, orient the needle image on your map to point to north. Once you have done that you now can navigate. That is a whole lot more to learn.

    Couple of links:
    Hate to throw crap in the game, but the compass needle will always point to MAGNETIC North. That varies depending on where in the country you are located. Magnetic North is different from true or grid (map) North, I just can't remember what the range of difference in degrees is right now, but it the variance is usually called out on topographic map sheets.

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  7. #6
    Array dademoss's Avatar
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    The sport is called Orienteering:

    Tons of links there, along with how to use a map and compass
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  8. #7
    Senior Member Array jhh3rd's Avatar
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    Get in car, point compass toward wife, and say "which way dear?"

  9. #8
    Senior Member Array Rob P.'s Avatar
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    Basically a compass will only tell you which way to go to get where you want to go. You need either a map or a visible landmark to make it work.

    For a visible landmark, hold the compass so that the needle aligns with the "N". Now spin the base so that the printed arrow points towards where you want to go. If you want to check if you're on your correct heading, pull out the compass, align the needle with"N" and follow the printed arrow.

    Same deal applies to a map. Align the needle with "N". Orient the map so that North on the map is north. Place the compass on the map where you are, spin the base so that the printed arrow points where you want to go. Follow the printed arrow.

    You can do some basic orienteering at your local school. On the football field, align the compass, point the direction arrow at something and spin around a few times. Now align the needle and follow the compass without looking up. If you get where you wanted to go, you did it right.

  10. #9
    Distinguished Member Array Bob The Great's Avatar
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    Orienteering is a skill that I think everyone should have. This page covers most of the basics:

    The key concept that helped me was this: Your compass does not tell you where to go - it only tells you where other things are in relation to you. The entire orienteering skillset revolves around two things: finding your own location on a map (a fix), and plotting a course to somewhere you want to go.

    The first thing (finding your location) can be accomplished pretty easily as long as you have a few landmarks that can be identified both on your map and by your eyes. You want to sight down your compass towards the landmark and record the angle between this direction and north on your compass. Then, starting at the same landmark on the map, draw a straight line at the same angle away from magnetic north on the map. Repeat this same procedure for a second landmark, again drawing a straight line on your map through the landmark. The point where these lines intersect is your current location. If you want to check yourself, pick a third landmark and do the same thing. All three lines should pass through the same point (or pretty close).

    Plotting a course is also best accomplished with landmarks. On your map, starting at the point where you are located, draw a straight line to the point where you want to be, then measure the angle between this line and magnetic north on the map. Dial in the same angle on your compass, align your compass to north, and then sight down the compass and pick a landmark some distance away that you will be able to easily identify and keep in view the whole time. Once you have your landmark spotted, you can put your compass and map away and walk to it.

    Once at the landmark, take another sighting to find a new landmark along the same direction. If you need to know how far you've come, you can take another sighting of a landmark that you can identify on the map to verify your new location (but you should need only one since you know that the landmark you walked to is along the course you previously drew on the map.

    I really don't like the stare at the compass while walking method, also known as dead reckoning. It introduces far too much error in your final track, and even 1/2 a degree error can throw you a long ways off track over the course of a couple of miles. Sighting a landmark is much more consistent, and it gives you something to go back to if you get side-tracked. Even if you go off-path for whatever reason (let's be tacticool and say you were avoiding an enemy patrol), you can still head for your landmark and know that it is still along the correct path from your original location.

    If you really want to get into GPS-less navigation, start learning about sextants and how to use them. You can do some amazing stuff with a sextant, even when you have no landmarks other than the sun - that's why they were used for open-water navigation.
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  11. #10
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    Array buckeye .45's Avatar
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    Really try to find an orienteering group in you area, or some other similar activity. You can read about it all day long, but it won't really click and you won't get a feel for it until you actually try some real world application. Start with the basics, and then work your way up, just like anything else.
    Fortes Fortuna Juvat

    Former, USMC 0311, OIF/OEF vet
    NRA Pistol/Rifle/Shotgun/Reloading Instructor, RSO, Ohio CHL Instructor

  12. #11
    VIP Member Array Chaplain Scott's Avatar
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    You might also look in a used bookstore for an older copy of the Boy Scout handbook. I am serious and not kidding. Like a few other older (excuse me, I mean "more seasoned") folks here, this was basic stuff taught to us in the Boy Scouts, and the older scouting manuals are actually quite handy and full of great teaching about this and other outdoor stuff.

    As to the compass, you can go CHEAP, or you can go top-of-the-line. It all depends on how much accuracy you want and how much you are willing to spend. For myself, I bought a used military lensatic compass. Try your local Army-navy store......

    good luck!!
    Scott, US Army 1974-2004

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  13. #12
    Senior Member Array Daddy Warcrimes's Avatar
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    +1 on the Boy Scout handbook.

    Also, Google FM 3-25.26; this is the Army's land navigation manual.

    A compass is an important tool in navigation, but it is not a stand alone device. Without a good map, they are not good for much at all.
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  14. #13
    VIP Member Array mcp1810's Avatar
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    I have always been partial to Silva compasses. In particular the ones with the clear base with rulers, magnifiers and stuff built in. They made them like that for Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. The rulers are used with the scale on the map to help you figure out how far it is from point "A" to point "B" As was stated the needle is going to point to magnetic North. Some maps (like some USGS ones) will tell you what the difference is between true North and magnetic North.
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  15. #14
    Ex Member Array F350's Avatar
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    As someone who has used map and compass to navigate in the wood for 40 years this is my personal opinion, take it for what it's worth...

    In the woods where line of sight is a matter of a couple hundred yards at best, the topographic map is far more useful, the compass is needed for general directional reference but once you learn to read a topo map you can easily navigate with map alone. In hilly terrain it will be next to impossible to walk straight lines due to steep bluffs, green brier thickets etc. The topo map will enable you know in advance of steep inclines and plan a route along easier terrain returning to your planed base route. Look at game trails in steep, hilly terrain, NO game trail EVER goes straight up a steep hillside, you need to plan to utilize easy(er) slopes returning to your base line of travel as often as possible and then plan the nest leg, the shortest route is not always the fastest, easiest or even possible.

    Take a topo map to an area you are familiar with and walk the land referring to the map and note how the contour lines depict the elevation of the land, remember a contour line represents a constant elevation (300 feet for example) and the closer together the lines the steeper the incline, also a little known "secret" to reading a topo map: sharp pointed "V"s in otherwise straight contour lines will (almost) ALWAYS point up hill. They are created by water run off eroding a depression or periodic stream, and since contour lines are a constant elevation the line bends uphill to maintain this constant elevation. More rounded long "V"s generally point down hill and are "finger ridges" coming down off a main ridge and are the gentlest slope in the area and you will likely find an old logging road and a game trail following this "finger ridge" because it is the easiest assent to the top of the main ridge.

    I have used topo maps so much that now I can look at one and almost see it in 3D, plus with knowledge of whitetail deer movement I can pick out places I am likely to find good trails just from looking at a map (a buddy obtained hunting permission on a new place and scouted it for 2 months before I could get there. We looked at a map and he asked where I thought I would like to hunt; the first 3 places I picked he had already built stands, he spent 2 months scouting, I picked them out in 5 min of studying the map). Search on line for "How to read topographic maps" I found many sites with good info.

    A great tool and learning aid for reading topo maps is DeLorme's "TOPO USA", you get full US coverage at 1:100,000 scale (large) (typical USGA topo maps are 1:25,000 and can be down loaded from their map library along with aerial photos) and it has a 3D view where instead of just looking straight down you can get a rotatable side view so you can really see the terrain and relate it to the contour lines. With a USB GPS receiver it is ~$100 (plus if you fish many of the older topo maps show man made lakes before they were flooded, old roads, bridges, buildings etc so you can navigate straight to them with a small laptop).

    Don't get me wrong, a compass is essential (I carry a Tritium Military Lensatic Compass and a backup boyscout model when in strange terrain) for orientation but for actual navigation I use just a topo map.

  16. #15
    VIP Member Array OldVet's Avatar
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    Set the compass flat on your lap. Stand your GPS unit on top of it. Punch in coordinates and follow the "go to" instructions. That's how to use a compass.
    Retired USAF E-8. Curmudgeon at large.
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