Using your Compass with a Map - Introduction

Hi I’m John Carnes, founder of Welcome to this MapTools training video series on Land Navigation, Using your Compass with a Map.

We’ve always been told we should bring a compass when we play in the woods. Like somehow just having your compass with you will keep you from getting lost. Sure we all know a compass points north, but what else is is good for?

The moss grows on the north side of the trees and all the other sides as well. But even the most basic “zipper pull” compass will point out North, and remind you where the other cardinal directions of, South, East, and West are. This feature alone should keep you from wandering in circles in the deep dark woods.

Put your compass next to your map and you can rotate the map to line up with the surrounding terrain. This will allow you to match features shown on the map with the actual terrain.

On a nice sunny day there are plenty of techniques for traveling cross country, you probably won’t need your compass. But when you combine hazardous terrain with poor visibility or darkness, a course leg described by a compass bearing is still one of the best techniques to use.

With a bit of practice using your compass, you can learn to measure a bearing from your location to a distant object. When you plot this bearing onto your map, you bring your field observations into the context of your map.

By sighting bearings on several features with known locations, and then plotting them onto your map, you can determine your location on the map.

Or, suppose you can see a fire off in the distance, but you don't know where it is on the map. Use a compass to sight bearings from several different known locations. Plot these bearings onto the map, and they will intersect at the location of the fire.

Both of these locating techniques, require us to use our compass to sight a bearing. But we also need to plot the bearing onto our map. You can use your compass for this as well. When you’re plotting or reading a bearing on the map, your compass is acting as a rather expensive protractor. Since it may be the only protractor you have with you in the field, this is a simple but valuable, skill to learn.

When you sight a bearing with your compass, you’re most likely using Magnetic North as your starting point or north reference. But when you plot the bearing onto your map, you’ll probably want to use Grid North or True North as your starting point. You’ll need to understand all three north references, when to use them, and how to convert between them.

The videos in this series will take you step-by-step through the techniques of land navigation, using your compass with your map.

For more video tutorials on land navigation, visit the tutorial section of the web site. Enjoy you outdoor adventures.