Using a Compass for Map Reading and Navigation

Using a Compass for Map Reading and Navigation

She's got it! Using a compass
1st Steps to Map Reading & Navigation Course
It’s a commonly held misconception that a compass is only useful for navigating across open moorland, mountain terrain or in the mist.  Additionally many people carry a compass but do not know how to use it!

We have been living and working in the Peak District for many years teaching Map Reading and Navigation. Frequently we watch people park up un the village green opposite our house get togged up for a walk and set off, only to see them coming back 5 or 10 minutes later as they had initially set off in the wrong direction. This is especially true of young people on their Duke of Edinburgh’s Award expeditions.

Using a compass to “orientate” your map before setting off helps you to then recognise where features are on the ground (preferably using a 1:25k scale map) and therefore which way to leave the car park or village. With a quick measurement using the scale ruler on your compass, you can gauge how far the footpath is from where you are and you can even take a bearing (if necessary) to show you the direction to walk from where you are to the start of your path.

Set the compass to north and use it to "orientate" the map so it is facing north.
You can now take a look around and find features on the ground.

“Following footpaths is easy, you don’t need a compass.”   Wrong!
Sometimes the path disappears, or is covered in snow or perhaps the farmer has ploughed the field or planted crops and obscured the path. If you are attempting to walk a path or right of way but can’t see the line of the path on the ground, by taking a bearing along the line of the path on the map will give you the direction to walk.

Using a compass to take a bearing down the line of the path that you intend to follow.

In a similar way, if you are attempting to follow a line of a path as shown on the map, but a second path appears, which one do you follow? Once again, by taking a bearing along the line of the path as shown on the map will give you the direction of which path to follow.

These are basic skills often not demonstrated on navigation courses.  
At Peak Navigation Courses we pride ourselves on being “navigation nerds” able to demonstrate the many uses of a compass.  If you would like to learn to navigate including how to use a compass, join our 1st Steps to Map Reading and Navigation Course, a one day course in The Peak District National Park.  Better still, if you have a whole weekend available, then join us for the SilverNational Navigation Award. 

The Silva Type 4 / 54 Expedition Compass, a good basic all round compass.

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