What is a compass and how does a compass work

A compass needle is a magnet that points toward magnetic north, not the North Pole. The difference between the two, called the angle of declination, varies from area to area and is shown on most topographic maps.

If you are traveling cross-country without a map, the difference doesn’t matter. Simply aim the direction of travel arrow at the place you want to go and turn the dial, or bezel, until the needle points toward 360 degrees. Keep the needle on this heading as you travel. To find your way back, rotate the bezel halfway around.

Finding your way with a map

To compensate for the angle of declination, place your compass on a topographic map with the long edge of the base plate connecting where you are to where you want to go. Then turn the bezel so that the orienting arrow aligns with magnetic north, as shown on the map. Now take the compass from the map and hold it level in front of you. Turn your body until the needle aligns with the orienting arrow. The direction-of-travel arrow is pointing at your destination. Don’t try to get there all at once. Pick out a landmark at which the arrow is pointing, walk to it, and find another landmark beyond.

If you have to skirt an obstacle, turn 45 degrees from your bearing and count each time your left foot hits the ground. When you’ve cleared the obstacle, turn back 90 degrees, walk the same number of paces, and turn 45 degrees again, back to your original bearing.