How to Use Any Compass for Navigation

A compass is a tool that can be used to determine one’s north. They are commonly found in survival kits and come with many different uses, including navigation. In this guide, we will go over the basics of how to use your compass for practical purposes such as finding direction or terrain features while navigating outdoors.

The “how to use compass” is a guide that will teach you how to use a compass for navigation. The article also includes the “Must Have” text.

Men return to the mountains, just as they return to sailing ships at sea, because in the mountains and on the sea, they must confront the challenge of nature, just as men of a previous era did. The modern man lives in a largely manufactured world. He is an expert in a variety of fields. He seldom puts all of his abilities to the test or finds himself entire. However, a man’s character emerges among the hills and on the lake.

Collier, Abram T.

While no one can deny that fast technological improvements over the previous century have greatly enhanced the lives of contemporary man, these innovations have also had detrimental repercussions. When it comes to the typical man, it’s frequently the case that while technology advances, our understanding declines. Technology has become a crutch, replacing talents that were once commonplace among all men only two or three generations ago. The internet and Google’s all-powerful search engine have placed worlds of knowledge at our fingertips, yet as information becomes more widely accessible, man loses interest in retaining it inside himself.

The actual issue is whether or not robots think, not whether or not men do.

Skinner, B.F.

While the benefits of this unparalleled access to information clearly exceed the drawbacks, there is a case to be made for keeping some of the talents of the past. With this in mind, we shift our focus to relearning how to utilize an ancient instrument, the compass, which has led men through the deepest jungles and the most treacherous oceans for millennia. The construction and handling of the compass will be covered in the following parts, as well as the method for basic compass-based navigation.

Basic Designs

While there are other types of compass, the baseplate compass and the lensatic compass are the two most common varieties used by hikers and other outdoor enthusiasts.

Baseplate Compass style placed on map.

Compass for the Baseplate

Liquid Filled Lensatic compass style for military navigation tool.

Compass for Lensatics

During World War II, both types gained popularity, with the lensatic model being standard issue for the US Army at the time and continuing to be so today. Because the lensatic model is the more lasting of the two, the following instructions will be based on it. The core ideas of compass navigation, however, apply to both devices.


Taking It Apart

Parts of the Lensatic Compass from 1956 Army Field Manual.


The lensatic compass might seem intimidating at first look. It seems to need a great degree of ability to operate, since it is covered with numerous markings and has several moving components. On the contrary, with a basic understanding of the operations, anybody can use a lensatic like a pro.

The lensatic compass is made up of three primary components: the cover, the base, and the reading lens. The sighting wire is included in the cover, which functions as a lid. The floating compass dial (with markings for South, East, and West and an arrow pointing North), the bezel that surrounds it, and the thumb loop are all included in the base, which is the bottom half of the compass. The dial is suspended in a liquid, commonly kerosene or another form of oil. A glass cover with a fixed index line carved into it protects the dial. On the lens, there is also a tiny line that rotates with the bezel. When the compass is closed, the reading lens is positioned in a moving arm connected to the base of the compass, and it folds to rest flat on the dial for protection.


How to Use a Compass

It’s vital to use good technique while gripping the compass, since a faulty hold can result in a lousy reading, perhaps leaving you lost in the wilderness. The centerhold technique and the compass-to-cheek approach are the two most common methods for appropriately using a lensatic compass while taking a reading.

The Centerhold Technique is a technique that involves holding a position in

Centerhold Technique how to hold compass diagram.

To effectively perform the centerhold method, fully open the compass such that both the base and cover sit level on the table surface if placed on it. Fold the thumb loop completely open and grip the compass as indicated in the illustration. The compass should be held out in front of your midsection while you stand with your elbows firm at your sides. Hold this position while pointing your complete body towards a distant target item to take a reading. Look down and notice the degree shown underneath the fixed index line on the dial after you’ve focused in on the item.

The Compass to Cheek Technique is a method for converting a compass into

Illustration about how to hold a compass.

The term alone provides little room for interpretation, and when paired with the illustration above, this approach is almost self-explanatory. Fold the thumb hook to its completely open position with the cover open to 90 degrees and the reading lens open to 45 degrees. Place your thumb within the thumb loop and use the grip described above to hold the compass.

to get a sense of

Choose your desired grip for the compass. Locate the objective item you’ll be utilizing for a bearing (distant mountain, radio tower, etc.). Point the compass toward the target if you’re utilizing the centerhold approach. If you’re utilizing the compass to cheek method, gaze through the sighting wire and center it on your target to find the item. Take notice of the degree mark while in this posture.

Using Your Compass to Navigate

Compass shooting azimuth navigation diagram drawing.

Rotate the bezel until the movable line engraved into the glass is exactly in line with the north directional arrow after noting the degree mark. You’ve found your bearings. You’ll always know your target item is in the direction of the sighting wire when the north arrow is lined up with this line, regardless of visibility. If at all feasible, retake your bearings to allow as little space for mistake as possible.

Other Points to Consider

  • Always keep in mind that since a compass reads magnetic energy, it might be influenced by neighboring metal objects. For example, if you’re attempting to take a reading while standing with a pack full of metal tent poles on your back, you may get a false north and spend the whole day doing laps around Yellowstone.
  • When getting a bearing, keep an eye out for high-tension electrical lines and make sure you’re at least 50 yards away from them.
  • Always double-check that your compass dial can move freely and that your compass is clear of any damage that might affect readings.

Of all, this is only a taste of what you can do with a compass and the right training. Any Army Field Manual, accessible online or at your local bookshop, has a full instruction to more sophisticated compass procedures. Keep in mind that, although GPS units are really useful, circuit boards may short circuit and batteries can run out, and when this happens, you’ll be pleased you have your trusty compass to bring you home.


3-25.26 United States Department of the Army Field Manual



The “orienteering compass” is a device that allows users to navigate by using the sun, stars and other natural elements.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you navigate with a compass without a map?

A: To find North, simply go to a location that is roughly above the center of your head. For example, if you are standing in an open field and looking at the sky, then be facing East. Hold up your right hand with all fingers extended (including the thumb) and point towards North while keeping it steady on top of your head. Your arm should now form an imaginary line pointing northwards from its tip to where youre looking.
To keep this as accurate as possible without having to pause gameplay itself, longer hold both segments of your pointer finger together in such a way that they overlap each other in one spot so theres no gap between them when held straight like this for more than about two seconds or else itll get too uncomfortable for extended periods but not long enough for where you cant move either finger because their tips will naturally touch each other due to how those joints work! If using something like Google Maps on PC/Mac/Google Chrome Headset Mode browser extension instead then just click anywhere near the bottom left corner which makes sense since most maps have south oriented labels anyway and also has some options available such as move/rotate.

Why a compass can be used for navigation?

A: A compass is a device that usually uses magnets to determine the cardinal directions, which are north and south. The magnetic field produced by these two poles near Earth creates an invisible force that points in a fixed direction around the world.

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