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How to use a compass - a step by step

Follow the step by step guidance below to use a compass to make sure you go down the correct track, path or feature Using a compass is easy once you have been shown how to correctly hold it. If you still need some guidance then come along on a New Forest Navigation map reading course and learn how to do it - for real, outdoors!

If you are unable to determine which direction to walk using the map (orientation) you can use a compass. Follow the simple 1-2-3 steps and the compass will when you take it off the map at stage three point you down the track, path or feature you want to walk down.

Step by step of how to use a compass sketch map New Forest Navigation

In this scenario you are at the path junction circled in red.

You want to walk along the track in the direction indicated by the blue arrow and can not work out which way to go using just the map.

Step by step of how to use a compass stage one New Forest Navigation

Stage 1

Place the black line or the edge of the compass alongside or on top of the track, path or feature you want to walk down. The line is great to use because it does not obscure the detail of the 'feature' as much as the edge and you can line things up nicely.

Step by step of how to use a compass stage two New Forest Navigation

Stage 2

KEEPING the black line on the feature (stage 1). Turn the housing of the compass so that the 'orientation lines' in the compass face the correct way. The red part of the orientation lines should be turned so they are facing to map north. Map north is the top of the map when you are holding the map like a book, with the majority of the writing going the correct way to read it! Check that the black line is still on the track, path or feature (the track).

If you can see the blue line that runs south north line up the red and black orientation lines to it. You can use any of the lines.

Step by step of how to use a compass  stage three New Forest Navigation

Stage 3

At this stage you can remove the compass from the map and hold it in your hand so that the rear of the compass is towards your body and the arrow is pointing forwards (90 degrees). Keep the compass in that position and slowly turn on the spot so that the red magnetic needle is lined up with the red of the compass housing - Red on Red. Look up and the way you want to walk is in front of you where the arrow is pointing (not north!). In the above example I have left the map in place so you can see how the compass would be positioned in relation to the track on the map.

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Test last location
Test - April courses and Nigel's walks

New Forest Navigation map reading courses start from car parks and villages within the New Forest National Park. The New Forest is located in south Hampshire, South East England. It is easily accessible from the surrounding counties of Dorset, Wiltshire, Surrey, Sussex and London. No need to travel to Snowdnia or Peak District with the New Forest on your door step!
Course start locations are reached easily from all New Forest villages and towns, which all have a huge range of accommodation options; Brockenhurst, Lyndhurst, Lymington, Christchurch, Fordingbridge, Ringwood, Burley, Sway and further afield at Bournemouth, Southampton and Salisbury.

New Forest Navigation

Learn Map Reading and how to use a Compass courses in the New Forest.
New Forest National Park, Hampshire, UK
07873575997