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How to Use a Compass to Orient a Map and Find Your Way

If you were to pull out a smartphone and open a maps app, it would show where you were and which direction you were facing. Can you get the same useful information without a digital aid? Absolutely. Grab a map. Better yet, get a compass, too.

You can orient a map by aligning it with the topography (the features it represents). Look for hills, trailheads and bodies of water, and hold the map so it matches the landscape around you. Most maps indicate which way is north. With your map matching your topography, you should know which direction you’re facing based on the map’s cardinal directions.

For better accuracy or if you don’t have easily identifiable landmarks near you, pull out your compass. Rotate the housing of the compass until north lines up with the direction-of-travel arrow on the baseplate. Place the long edge of the compass along the map’s border. Turn the compass and map together until the compass needle lines up inside the orienteering arrow.

Note that this method doesn’t account for declination, but the map should be oriented accurately enough for a general lay of the land.

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