Elms Environmental Education Center

Student Pages

Using a Compass: The Basics


Ok, now that we know what we can do with a compass it is time to figure out how to do what we want.


Lets start with figuring out a known direction. Lets say we were out hiking with mom and we used our simple GPS to record the location of the car. The GPS tells us that the car is bearing 197 degrees. We are out in the middle of the woods! Where is 197 degrees!











Step 1: Rotate the dial on the compass until 197 is on the "white line".











Step 2: Hold the compass flat, with the "direction arrow" facing toward the direction you are looking, and spin around in place until the red needle is pointing towards the "N" on the dial. (When the needle is pointing to the "N" on the dial, the needle will be centered in the "dog house".)



Step 3: Look ahead! You are facing 197 degrees! (The direction arrow will point towards the number you put on the white line WHEN the red needle is pointing to the letter "N".)








  • When you are aligning the red needle with north on the dial (the letter "N") SPIN YOUR BODY, not just the compass!
  • The white lines on the dial are usually in increments of two, so you will need to count by twos. Study the numbers on the dial and you will figure it out.
  • Pointing the direction arrow the same way you are facing makes using the compass more practical. You will be facing the direction you want to go and all you have to do is look up and pick a target to walk to. When you get to your target, repeat the above steps and choose another target. Easy peasy.

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