Facts About Compasses

Facts About CompassesA compass is an invaluable tool to the outdoor enthusiast. Whether you are running, hiking, backpacking or mountain biking, a compass should be part of the basic gear carried by any one venturing out to the great outdoors. The compass comes in several varieties with specific users in mind. Constructed of rugged and durable materials, the most reliable compass will typically feature liquid-filled capsules which provide more accurate readings.

Compass Basics

A compass is a precision instrument designed specifically for navigation. The compass uses a magnetized pointer to determine directions in relationship to the earth's magnetic poles. The typical compass will feature a pointer which is magnetized and will most often be marked with red to indicate North. To use a compass, simply hold the compass in the palm of your hand in a level position. Typically, a compass features a bubble to help in leveling the instrument. The liquid filled chamber allows the magnetic needle to freely move as it aligns itself with the magnetic North of the earth. A compass is an extremely accurate means of plotting and tracking anywhere around the world.


There are several different types of compasses which are designed for specific purposes. The general purpose field compass is usually an easy to hold design with an easy to read needle clearly marked in red. Other features may include map navigation aids printed on the compass as well as luminous markings for low light conditions. Another type of compass is the mirror compass. This compass will have many of the same features as a general purpose compass with the addition of a mirrored lid with a sighting notch. This compass is favored by expeditions and military personnel as it allows precise alignments with distant objects while the mirror reflects the bearing. The compass is not only a field instrument as it is available for boat and vehicle use. From the factory installed electric model to the after market liquid filled model, there are many compass options for travelers.

Using a Compass

The most common use for a compass is to find a specific direction or to follow a predetermined direction. Used by outdoor enthusiasts and military personnel, a quality compass is a standard piece of equipment which should be standard gear. However, without basic knowledge in using a compass it is almost useless. The basic compass includes a direction of travel line, a liquid filled chamber with the North arrow, and an adjustable ring with directions and heading numbers. For example, to go North West, align the adjustable ring so that the NW markings on the ring align with the direction of travel line. Next, keeping the compass flat, turn your whole body until the red needle in the compass aligns with North. You can now determine North West. Keep in mind this is a very basic explanation and further instruction will be needed for travel in unfamiliar territory.

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.

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