How to Orient a Map Using a Compass

How to Orient a Map Using a Compass
Understanding how to use a map and compass together is an important way to avoid getting lost while exploring nature. A map alone may not be enough to help you find your way if you don't know your exact location. By orienting the map to a compass you can quickly find your way home from even the deepest forest. Practice these skills first in a local park to make sure you understand how your compass works.


Difficulty: Moderately Easy

Things You’ll Need:
  • Compass
  • Map
Step 1
Spread out the map in front of you. The map must be horizontal (flat to the ground) in order to orient it with a compass.
Step 2
Find north on the map. Maps are generally printed so north is at the top of the paper, but this isn't always the case with trail maps.
Step 3
Place the compass on the map so that the "N" on the compass is aligned with north on the map. Make sure the compass is held flat and level to the ground so its arrow moves freely.
Step 4
Rotate the map and compass together until the compass arrow points north. The map is now oriented to the compass and ready to read.

Tips & Warnings

Check your map and compass regularly while hiking to check your position on the map. Use landmarks on the map to help confirm your position.
When reading a compass and map together, if you are facing north, then east is to your right, west is to your left and south is directly behind you.
True north and magnetic north are not always the same. Magnetic north can be up to 20 degrees different from true north on coastal states. Always orient your compass to magnetic north as indicated on the map, and not just to the top of the paper.

Article Written By Denise Bertacchi

Denise Bertacchi is a freelance writer with a degree in journalism from Southeast Missouri State University. She is a St. Louis suburbanite who has written for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Boys' Life, Wisconsin Trails, and Missouri Life.

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