How to Navigate on Land With a Compass

How to Navigate on Land With a CompassLearning to navigate on land with a compass is knowledge any wilderness hiker or backpacker needs for survival. Although a GPS might be easier to navigate with, a compass will never run out of battery power or lose its signal due to clouds or tree cover. A compass alone will not prevent you from becoming lost---you will also need a decent map and know how to read it. It's a good idea to practice using a compass in a park you are familiar with first, before testing your skills in the wilderness.


Difficulty: Moderate

Determine Your Location on the Map

Things You’ll Need:
  • Compass
  • Map
  • Pencil
Step 1
Use the compass and map to find your present location by triangulation. Find a recognizable landmark on the map and draw a line connecting it and where you think you are located on the map.
Step 2
Find another landmark at least 45 degrees from the first landmark. Draw a line on the map that connects the second landmark to where you think you are located on the map.
Step 3
Look at where the lines meet, forming an X. This is where you are actually located on the map.

Navigate With the Compass

Step 1
Hold the map level to the ground and place the compass on the map. Place the compass heading arrow---located on the base---so that it points in the direction you wish to travel.
Step 2
Turn the compass dial until both the needle and the north line of the compass line up with north as indicated by the map.
Step 3
Look at the compass heading line. It should now be oriented to the map and ready to help you navigate in the direction you wish to travel.

Tips & Warnings

To find north on a compass, spin the compass dial until "north" on the compass lines up with the red portion of the floating arrow.

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.

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.