How to Do Orienteering

How to Do OrienteeringOrienteering is the process of using a compass or a map and a compass to find your way from point A to point B. This is a vital skill for cross-country hikers, who are often away from established trails and have few or no visible landmarks to work with. Orienteering can seem confusing, but it is really just about getting proper bearings before starting on a path and then sticking to a straight line.


Difficulty: Moderately Easy

The Basics

Things You’ll Need:
  • Baseplate compass
  • Map (topographical maps are best)
Step 1
Identify the three arrows on your compass: The first is the magnetic needle, the only needle that will move on its own. In most compasses, it is inside a liquid-filled capsule. The second is an orienting arrow that is usually etched on the surface or bottom of the needle's capsule, and can be rotated by turning the capsule housing. The third is inked or etched onto the rectangular platform upon which the housing rests, and this is called the directional arrow.
Step 2
Hold the compass level, possibly in the palm of your hand. Some are equipped with a mini-level to do this.
Step 3
Turn the compass housing so that the directional arrow points in the direction you wish to go in. If that were southwest, for example, turn the housing until the arrow crosses the space between south and west.
Step 4
Rotate the compass (or yourself) until the needle and the orienting arrow align. With both of these set to north, you can now be certain the directional arrow is pointing in the right direction.
Step 5
Walk as indicated by the directional arrow, and periodically keep an eye on the magnetic needle to make sure it has stayed closely aligned to the orienting arrow. If the two come out of alignment, you have stopped moving in a straight line. This is perfectly adequate for basic orienteering towards points that cannot be missed along a general bearing, such as long stretches of river or road.

Using a Map

Step 1
Set the compass on the map, and both on a reasonably level surface. Once again, if your compass has a mini-level, that will help you.
Step 2
Align the right or left lengthways edge of the compass on the starting and stopping points of the proposed route on the map. Most compasses have a rectangular base section, and the lengthways sides are the longer pair of the four sides. If the route is too long to fit along the compass edge, it needs to be divided into sub-routes so that it does.
Step 3
Turn the compass housing (the donut) so that the orienting arrow is aligned with the northward pointing lines on the map.
Step 4
Rotate the map and compass so that the orienting arrow (and northward lines of the map) align with the magnetic needle. Now the map is oriented in conjunction with the right direction, and the directional arrow is therefore pointing down your route.
Step 5
Walk along the path pointed out by the directional arrow, once again checking the compass to keep the needle and orienting arrow closely aligned.

Tips & Warnings

Orienteering almost always means going off trail, and that means walking through brush, brambles, and tall grass. Be sure to dress appropriately.

Article Written By Edwin Thomas

Edwin Thomas has been writing since 1997. His work has appeared in various online publications, including The Black Table, Proboxing-Fans and others. A travel blogger, editor and writer, Thomas has traveled from Argentina to Vietnam in pursuit of stories. He holds a Master of Arts in international affairs from American University.

Don't Miss a Thing!

All our latest outdoor content delivered to your inbox once a week.



We promise to keep your email address safe and secure.