Woman Using Map And Compass


A paper map and a compass are the most reliable and most effective way to navigate and find your location. Ever since the age of GPS and Google Maps began, a lot of people have forgotten how to use them. If you’re one of those people, then it might be time to learn how to do it the old-fashioned way. You’ll never know when your GPS receiver or mobile phone will fail you. When that happens, you’ll be glad you brought your compass and map with you. Here’s how to use a compass and a map.


Maps are two-dimensional, top-down representations of a real-world, three-dimensional area. The data on it and how it’s displayed is what differentiates the types of maps.

For a hiker or 4Wdriver like yourself, a basic trail or roadmap is what you need. The map will have lines indicating the position of trails or roads and often has an oversimplified representation of their shapes and scale.

A topographic map, on the other hand, will give you a detailed and accurate representation of the three-dimensional shapes of the terrain around you. A topo map, as it is called, is a more advanced version of a basic map. If you’re looking for a more detailed map, this is the most effective one and the one you must look for.

The contour lines represent the contours of the landscape features of the area. Each line will be a constant height apart depending on the scale. This will give you an idea of the height of a mountain, its shape and the steepness of its individual sections. The easiest way to use this map to figure out where you are is to look at these contour lines and create a 3D image in your head. Once you’ve done that, compare it to what you see. Use the landmarks to determine where you are.

When measuring the distance, grab a piece of string and trace your intended route on the map, and then pull it straight and compare it to the map’s “Distance Scale”. In trail maps, you’ll usually find interval distances listed for hiking trails. The number will tell you the distance between the two points on the trail.


Your map will be useless if it’s not paired with a compass. A compass will tell you which way is north, south, east or west. What you need to remember is, your map is oriented true north, but your compass points at magnetic north. This often leads to some fairly big navigation errors, especially for the uninitiated. Miss just five degrees in your intended direction and you’ll be nearly a mile off after 10 miles of walking/hiking. The angle between the true north and magnetic north is called “Magnetic Declination”.

If you’ve got a destination picked out on the map or in real life, you’ll now want to be able to head towards it. By using a compass, you’ll be able to navigate to a specific direction, rather than simply going north or east (or anywhere you want to go for that matter). A compass has what’s called a bezel ring. The bezel ring has a 360-degree circle broken down into two or five-degree increments. These increments will measure the distance towards a point in relation to its clockwise angle from magnetic north.

To head towards your destination, hold the compass flat and make sure the direction of the travel arrow is pointed towards your destination. After that, twist the bezel so the big red arrow inside it aligns with magnetic north.

Take note of where your intended direction of travel lies. If you’re heading 40 degrees, consult the compass regularly to make sure that you’re walking in that direction. As long as the big red arrow of the bezel lines up with the compass needle when the compass is pointed ahead, you’re headed in the right direction. To remember this, just think ‘Red in the shed’. That means the red north arrow of the compass is inside the red shed of the bezel ring.


Knowing exactly where you are on a map is the key to correct navigation. To pinpoint your location, find two prominent visual objects or landmarks you can identify on your map. The further apart the landmarks are, the better.

Hold your compass level and point its direction of travel arrow directly at the first landmark. Afterwards, twist the bezel, so the big red arrow inside it aligns with the needle (Red in the shed again). Find that landmark on the map and place the edge of your compass on it. Keeping that edge on top of the object, now rotate the map until the orienting lines align with the orienting lines inside the compass bezel. Then trace the line created by the edge of your compass on the map.

Take note of that line because you’re somewhere on it. Repeat this process with the second landmark. The point where the two lines will intersect is your exact position.

So there you go. That’s how to use a map and a compass. Hopefully, this article will help you if ever you get lost when hiking. Learning how to read a map and compass doesn’t happen overnight, so devote your time to learning it. It is an important skill to learn and one that might save you someday.


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Martin White
Martin White

Martin is huge on everything outdoors and is even bigger on driving and technology. He loves boats, new stuff and writing about it.