How to Read a Compass


A compass in your pocket should help orient you wherever you roam. A compass needle always points to magnetic north to help you travel in the right direction. A compass has several parts, including the baseplate, the housing and the compass arrow. When you understand how to use these components and set them properly you will know how to read a compass and use it effectively.

  • Determine the direction you want to travel. For example, you may wish to travel in a northeast direction.

  • Rotate the compass housing on the baseplate so that the "direction of travel arrow" sits precisely between the "north" and "east" directions -- northeast.

  • Hold the compass flat in your hand so the needle will turn. Rotate yourself while you watch the compass needle turn. Continue rotating until the compass needle aligns with the orienting lines running through the face of the compass. Stop rotating when the compass arrow aligns perfectly with the orienting lines.

  • Verify that the red half of the compass arrow points at north.

  • Travel in the direction of the travel arrow. Look off in the distance and find a point in the distance -- such as a tree or a rock -- and travel toward that point. Hold the compass flat in your hands as you walk and look down at it about every 100 yards.

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