Basic compass skills: Using a map and compass to find your way

Oct 18, 2019 BY Mark Pawlak

If you’ve not been taught them, even basic compass skills can be difficult. But using a map and compass to find your way is a key skill for many activities and very easy to learn.

Basic compass skills for hikers pixabay royalty free image

You may ask isn’t there an app for this? I have GPS do I even need a map anymore? Okay so the old school methods might seem awkward, but they are essential in the outdoors even if they are only used as a backup to technology.

Using a map and compass to find your way

Instead of redesigning the wheel I looked for the best visual guide to basic compass skills already out there. Unsurprisingly, it’s by compass maker Silva, and I’ve borrowed it below.

Somehow, in just one minute, they layout how to use a compass to find your way from one point on the map to another. Take a look at the video – dodgy voiceover aside it is very good. So easy, when you know how.

Learning how to use a compass just by reading a blog is impossible. The best way to do it is out on the ground with a map and easy to spot landmarks.

When trekking or hiking, particularly on more mountainous routes, you really need to know the basic compass skills. And don’t think you can rely on that app… Not everywhere will have a signal and technology can fail, run out of juice break or be lost. How will you navigate then?

Having said that we checked out the best adventure travel apps and some are really useful. They are great so use them! But don’t 100% rely on them. In fact using a map and compass to find your way alongside an app is a good way to learn the basic compass skills.

Basic compass skills Using a map and compass to find your way pixabay royalty free image

Getting started: First compass skills

If you’re just getting started with navigation, here’s a simple list of things to do to help get started;

  • Learn some basic map symbols and the grid reference system
  • Get a compass and learn how to identify its parts
  • Pick up a map of an area you already know well, get your boots on and get out on the trail
  • Pick a spot you know and match what you see on the ground with what you see on the map

More basic compass skills

Key to getting started is finding where you are. Sounds obvious, but it’s not always easy. You can do it with a compass and your newly developed map skills by cross referencing three landmarks using triangulation. This video shows you how:

Triangulation is a little time consuming, and it not easy in rain, poor visibility or strong winds. So perhaps the real value of using modern tech, such as a GPS (global positioning system), is that it can provide your position on the ground.

Map and compass shortcut…

Don’t have GPS but want to know your position? Before you get triangulating there is a simple way using a map and compass to find your location.

Orientate the map so it’s pointing north then take a look around where you are. Can you can spot any really obvious features? In which direction are they from where you are stood?

Then ask yourself: Where have you come from today? How long did you take to get here? Did you follow a path that is on the map?

Often you’ll have enough information to match what you see ‘on the ground’ with what you see on the map. If not get triangulating!

There’s lots of navigation tips and tricks to be learned. So check back for more guides to navigation in the future – after all we’re easy to find!

We hope you found this guide to using a map and compass to find your way useful. Want to put your basic compass skills to the test? Then check out our trekking holiday discounts.


Cycling, Hiking, Kayaking, Mountain Biking, Mountaineering, Multi Activity, Overlanding, Trekking
compass, compass skills, handheld GPS, navigation, Silva, survival

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