Welcome to part two of my map and compass skills overview!

This time let’s look at using the compass as a protractor on your topographical map and figure out a heading. It’s a simple process—but it needs constant practice. It’s a good excuse to get out and play in the woods more.

Using a map and compass together is the technique used to figure out how to get from point A to point B. The compass, used similarly to a protractor, gives you a reassuring line to follow on your map, and is the main reason why anyone travelling in the outdoors would unpack their compass in the first place. Just follow these basic steps:

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  • Place the map on a relatively flat service.
  • Mark the letter A on the map to indicate where you already are and then mark B where you want to go on the map.
  • Line up the side of the compass’s base plate from A to B (route of travel), making sure the direction-of-travel arrow (top of the compass) is pointing to B.
  • Without moving the compass itself, rotate the compass housing (the round dial with all the degrees marked on it) until the orienteering arrow points north and the orienteering lines (inside the housing) run parallel with the north and south lines on the map.
  • Read out the bearing marked at the direction-of-travel arrow. (Take note that since you are using the compass like a protractor, you can ignore the compass needle during the entire procedure).
  • Lift the compass off the map and make the correction for declination to the bearing (if you don’t have the compass already adjusted by a declination screw).
  • Hold the compass at chest height and rotate your body until the floating magnetic needle lines up with the orienteering arrow. The compass is now pointing to B.
  • To calculate the distance between A and B, make use of the bar scale given at the bottom of the map. You can also get a quicker estimate by just counting the number of quadrants (square boxes) en route. Each quadrant measures 1,000 metres (one kilometre).

Read Part One: