BL Essentials

How to use a map and compass





compass-200x148.jpgWant to win your next orienteering challenge?

Get prepared by studying basic map-and-compass skills such as taking a bearing. Then move on to more advanced techniques such as aiming off and factoring in declination as you navigate your way through the course.

THE BASICS: TAKING A BEARING

1. Align one edge of the compass with your starting point — in this case, Point A. Align the forward edge of the compass with your destination, Point B.


VIDEO: Watch a demonstration of taking a bearing.

2. Turn the compass housing until north on the dial is aligned with north on your map. The direction you need to go — in this case, 245 degrees — can be read on the compass base.

3. Hold the compass in front of you near your midsection with the arrow pointing away from you at a 90-degree angle. Rotate your body — and the compass with it — until the compass needle is aligned with the “N” on the dial.

4. Follow the arrow on the compass to your destination.

Tip: To develop a solid plan of attack for an orienteering competition, you need to know how fast you can walk (or run) over a certain distance and be able to adjust for different kinds of terrain. (Obviously, it takes longer to hike through woodlands than it does to jog along a trail.)

THE NEXT STEP: AIMING OFF

In some cases, going from Point A to Point B isn’t as easy as it might seem. Let’s say the terrain between your current location and your intended destination consists of rolling hills, streams too deep to wade across and vegetation so thick that you have to go around.


VIDEO: Watch a demonstration of aiming off.

Face it: You aren’t going to be able to maintain a straight course. A veteran of orienteering will instead aim off to the left or right of their destination as it appears on the map to hit some permanent landmark, such as a road or stream.

Then, even if you don’t make it straight to your target, you’ve purposefully aimed off to one side, so you know you have a relatively short walk down the stream or road to get where you need to go.

For example: Let’s say you don’t want to risk hiking through some water and thick underbrush that lies between Points A and B on the map. Instead, purposefully aim off to the right, around Point C.

Even if you miss Point C by a good bit, you know you’re going to walk southwest on the road until you get to your destination.

Tip: It’s important to keep track of where you are all the time, especially when the distance between Point A and Point B (or C) is significant. Use attack points at which you stop and compute your bearings. Choose easily identifiable spots on the map as attack points – the edge of a pond, the end of a road, etc. Remember to add about a minute to your travel time for each time you check your compass.

SERIOUS STUFF: DECLINATION

Taking a bearing with a map and compass will show you the relative direction from Point A to Point B. The actual direction, as related to true north and south, is different.

The north magnetic pole is actually about 1,200 miles southwest of the true North Pole. Therefore, magnetic north — the spot to which your compass points — is not the same as true north.

The difference is called declination.

In some cases, the difference between magnetic north and true north is so slim that it isn’t going to greatly affect your course. But, depending on where you are and how far you’re going, factoring in declination can save you some major headaches down the road.

Declination varies depending on where you are. Every topographic map should include a declination diagram.

On this map, magnetic north is 4 degrees east of true north. To factor declination into your bearings, you would subtract 4 degrees from your bearing.

declination.jpgThe declination diagram here also indicates grid north: the direction of the grid lines on the map, which don’t point to true north either.

In this case, grid north is 2 degrees west of true north. So if you take a bearing from your map using grid lines, convert it to a magnetic bearing by adding 6 degrees — 2 degrees to true north and then 4 more to magnetic north.

Tip: Declination diagrams aren’t always drawn to scale, so don’t use them to adjust your bearing. You have to do it the old-fashioned way — with math.

Tip two: Some orienteering veterans draw their own lines on their map that run parallel to the north magnetic pole and use them instead of the grid lines that are already on the map. But the bigger the map, the harder it is to accurately draw a straight line, which means it’s best to use — you guessed it — math.

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Comments about “How to use a map and compass”

  1. Sly Fox says:

    Also, don’t forget the power of landmark check pointing when navigating.

  2. Mike says:

    The videos are not working

  3. Penguin says:

    I know how to do this, but I need a map to do it for 2nd class. Anyone know where I can find one.

  4. Anonymous says:

    mm it was ok

  5. Always Lost in my own thoughts 1234 says:

    A good Sylvan orienteering compass is an outdoorsman essential tool to keep a person oriented when walking in deep woods such as a National Forest that has hundreds of acres and miles of trees in a Forest.

  6. crazy says:

    this got me first class! whoohoooo

  7. SPL says:

    Great stuff!!! I wish you could make the picture bigger or download it though. Then i could teach my troop the basics easier.

  8. austin says:

    sweet

  9. Tiger Dad says:

    Mostly good advice, but near the bottom where it ways you should add 6 degrees, it should say you SUBTRACT 6 degrees, to get a field bearing, based on the diagram shown.

  10. War boat says:

    Useful info Gear Guy!!

  11. king tut says:

    That is really helpful advice.

  12. KingKong says:

    This is some really helpful advice that really helped me on my first hike. It helped us find which direction we were going on the map.

  13. Jupiter says:

    Awesome

  14. Iron Man says:

    I wanna go backpackin’ with my family (except ONE of my sisters who is 19 and is in Ohio)! This’ll be helpful for navigating our way around when we DO go backpacking.

  15. Iron Man says:

    Cool! I hope I don’t halfta go on one in a while… that’s kinda hard to remember all that stuff! Nevertheless, I wanna go on one.

  16. tigerrag says:

    I am going on a camp out and this will help me a lot. Thanks

  17. tigerrag says:

    thanks

  18. The Scoutmaster says:

    In the interest of keeping it simple scout, KISS:

    “Red in the Shed and follow Fred” Fred is your direction of travel, Red is the North pointing end of the needle and Shed is the hash marks signifying zero degrees, North, on the movable dial.

  19. Customscout says:

    This movie just earned me my second class.

  20. Cowboy says:

    This is good stuff!

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