How To Use a Compass Without a Map

How To Use a Compass Without a Map


Whether you are stranded on an island or lost on the road, a compass is an old-fashioned way to locate your position and find direction towards a destination. An interesting example of the use of a compass is Robert Peary. He made it to the North Pole using a compass. In this article, we will guide you through the process of using a compass without a map. If modern-day technology fails and you only have a compass to guide you, then you will surely be less stressed and more thrilled about the adventure!

What Is a Compass?

A compass is a small device that people use to find directions. A magnetic compass has a needle that attracts other magnets following the basic principles of magnetism. Every magnet has two poles; a south and a north pole. The north pole of one magnet is attracted to the south pole of another magnet.

Types of Compasses

There are two main types of compasses available:

  1. The Gyro Compass having a rapidly spinning wheel
  2. The Magnetic Compass having a magnetic needle
  3. With a jiggling needle and a mostly plastic exterior
  4. A liquid-filled compass with a stable needle

Components of a Compass

A compass has three main parts:

  • A magnetic needle
  • A dial with printed directions
  • A casing to secure all the parts

How Does a Magnetic Compass Work?

For the sake of simplicity, let’s stick to the magnetic compass for this article. Our planet Earth has a magnetic field and has two magnetic poles like any other magnet. The compass has a needle, and the north pole of that magnetic needle is attracted to the south pole of the Earth, and the south pole of the compass is attracted to the north pole of Earth. Pointing towards the North Pole, the compass helps us find directions as we can then determine other directions with the help of the Earth’s North Pole.

Earth’s Shifting Poles

The working of a compass seems simple, but it is not quite the case. You see, the Earth’s true North Pole (magnetically) is actually Earth’s South Pole (Geographically). And even that’s not it! The Earth’s magnetic poles are shifting, changing locations slightly each year. The last century has seen a shift of 620 miles in the North Pole. This shows how dynamic our planet is. Currently, the geographic North Pole or the magnetic South Pole is shifting towards Russia.

Using a Compass for Navigation

For navigation, a stable needle is essential. We recommend using a liquid-filled one, but if you don’t have one and don’t even have a map, then even a simple one will work. It is important to know the declination of your area, which is the angle between the true north and the north on your compass. With a compass, you should know your final destination and how far away it is, so if you wish to come back, you can easily do that.

Below are the steps to take to navigate using a simple compass.

  1. Finding directions: If you have a single needle, then it would point towards the north, and if you have a double-ended needle, then the red end points towards the North Pole of the Earth.
  2. Moving towards a destination: If you have a place to go to, which is on the south-west, then with the compass pointing north, you should have the south-west on your right side.
  3. Considering the declination: With a declination of 12 degrees, if you are in Sydney, Australia, the needle should point closer to your neck than pointing to the tip of your right shoulder.
  4. Walking mindfully: Keep walking in the direction you want to reach but keep checking for any possible deviations that might drive you off course.

Pacing and Timing Your Way

If you wish to keep track of the time and pace of your journey, then pacing and timing are important. Pacing is mainly calculating your steps and making a mental distance map with the help of each step you take. For example, if you can take 30 paces twice, that will be equal to 50 meters distance. That way, you know how far you have come. An average person walks 65 double paces for every 100 meters. But considering your pace, you need to know how much you can walk for how long and how far.

With timing, you calculate the time to cover a fixed distance. An average person can travel 4km in an hour, thus taking ½ a minute to complete a 100-meter distance, which is 65 paces. Again it depends on the area and your health, age, and other conditions. Making your own guides for timing and pacing is important when you set out to travel. Both pacing and timing with the help of a compass can help you reach your goal, and a personal guide for pacing helps avoid deviations.


In the modern era, everything helps to provide ease and convenience to man. With GPS (Geographic Positioning System) on our cell phones, we can easily locate places. However, many areas in the world don’t have internet access, and many remote locations don’t even offer cellphone signals; thus, it is very important to know how to use a compass without a map.

If you are lost in a forest, desert, or any other area, then instead of waiting for help, it is vital you know how to survive on your own. Using a compass isn’t very easy, and it requires practice. However, it is sure to work as long as the Earth has its magnetic field.

It is important to note that experience and practice are crucial for navigation, and going out for travel without any back up just with a compass is a poor choice. Thus, if you have confidence and have all the plans laid out in case things go wrong, then only should you consider entering the wilderness untrained.

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