A compass is an essential and invaluable piece of outdoor equipment. Taking time to understand and learn the basics of using a compass only takes a brief amount of time. This basic knowledge could very easily save your life if you become lost or disoriented. The first step in learning to use a compass is understanding what the parts of a compass are and how they work. As there are an array of compass types ranging from simple button size to larger professional models, it is important to understand what all compasses have in common. Most outdoor enthusiasts will typically use an orienteering compass which is readily available at most outdoor stores.
A typical orienteering compass will be rectangular in shape and be approximately 2-by-4 inches in size. The base plate of the unit will be made of clear plastic and marked along the sides with ruler increments. There will also be a direction of travel arrow printed on the center of the base plate which is used for course plotting. There will also be a small magnification window for reading fine print and is also handy for starting fires in a survival situation. There is also an index pointer at the base of the compass that aligns with the direction of travel arrow and ends at the edge of the compass heading dial for determining degree headings.
The housing is the raised portion of the compass which contains the direction needle and is filled with liquid. The needle is a magnetized piece of metal with one end painted red to indicate north. The needle rests on a small point which allows for unrestricted free movement. The bubble of air is left as an aid in leveling. The compass should be held so that the bubble is centered over the center point of the needle where it rotates. Underneath the bubble may be orienting lines that are used to align the compass to lines on a map. This will usually be a starting reference point for reading a map.
Other Compass Features
Other types of compasses may have features that aid in orienteering. A sighting window allows the user to hold the compass at eye level and get a visual fix on a distant object. A mirror may also be featured on some models which you to see reference an object and see the heading at the same time. The mirror is also useful as a signaling device in an emergency situation.
Article Written By Tara Dooley
Tara Dooley has written for various websites since 2008. She has worked as an accountant, after-school director and retail manager in various locations. Dooley holds a Bachelor of Science in business management and finance.