How To Use Compass When Backpacking & Camping

Camping grounds tend to provide maps and indicators of directions to the campers. This is because for them to easily locate specific landmarks and minimize the chance of getting missing. There is also an abundance of tools that provide assistance to the map holders, and one of these tools is known as the compass. In this article, you will be able to know all about this small pocket-sized tool and how despite its small size, it becomes one of the most essential tools you need in your navigation around the camping grounds.


A compass is a small pocket-sized instrument that is circular and has a noticeable arrow along with letters. They place letters around the arrow. The pointer may look normal, but it is actually magnetic. But how does it work in navigation? Well, the physics of earth is the main definition the way it works, specifically, the magnetic field of the planet.

The arrow aligns with the direction of the magnetic pull, which can indicate which direction is heading a particular cardinal direction which is north, south, west, and east. Since the earth’s magnetic fields all point towards a specific cardinal direction, the compass is able to indicate which direction you are facing.

Knowing your direction is extremely important in ensuring that you are heading in the cardinal direction is the right direction. Along with a map, you can ensure that the direction of your destination is the correct one that you are currently travelling to. This material makes the compass a necessary tool when travelling to a new area. You can also use it in case you forget your way within the camping grounds.


The use of a map and a compass is less convenient and somewhat considered outdated by the use of new modern navigation tools such as a GPS. However, these tools use the similar mechanics of using a map and compass, all while combining them into one device that most people can use easily and conveniently. Therefore, they are considering a much better option for people. Especially if they have no proper knowledge when it comes to navigating using a compass.


Using the digital GPS and other modern navigation applications are sometimes inconvenient due to the conditions that they require in order to operate. If you have a weak signal around your current area, their services might not work at all. There is also a possibility that your device’s battery gets low or completely drained, thus shutting down the application.

It can result in a very dangerous situation if you get lost in the wilderness. And considering you have a weak signal or a low battery, and it will hinder your chances of calling for help. This is the moment where the classic use of a map and a compass comes into place because they do not require these conditions in order to work. Whatever one you may prefer, it is undeniable that you have to have both in case of an emergency because you never know what circumstances might affect your navigation during your trip.


It is very important to note that you should never put the compass near any surface of the metal. This is because it can cause the magnetic arrow to turn in a different direction rather than that to the one that you are supposed to be heading to. This is because you have different uses for the map and compass depending on your destination. A few of these possible destinations include:

Three Things To Keep In Mind

  • Heading away from our campsite – this is used when you are heading out for a hike away from your campsite. It is also possible if you are gathering resources such as wood. Mark your campsite on the map. You can quickly locate this by viewing your surrounding for the nearest landmark, such as a small mountain range, a grassland, or a river. Just in case, you can also leave “bread crumbs” like what Hansel and Gretel did in the story. Only this time, you can use specific markings in your path to locate your way back and make your navigation more accessible, along with the use of the map and compass.
  • Visiting any landmarks indicated in the map – this may be one of the reasons why you planned to head out in the first place, to check out particular views or environments on the grounds. Although most camping grounds use digital guides or even physical tour guides, you can still use the map and compass in emergency situations. It is also worth noting that remembering each landmark that you cross upon or the one that is near your campsite is very important because it will be very helpful later on just in case you lose your way back to your camp.
  • Going to the nearby facilities of the camping grounds – many camping grounds have facilities such as stores and other services. Suppose you distanced your site from these buildings (either intentionally or unintentionally). In that case, it is advisable that you use your navigation devices just in case you lose your way back to your campsite. However, you can also just claim navigation tools from the facilities or ask for help from tour guides if you forget your way around.


  1. Magnetic Compass – the most common type of compass indicated by the red mark usually points towards the northern direction.
  2. Prismatic Compass – an advanced magnetic compass in which certain angles of a direction is shown. Campers are considering this as one of the best types of compass for accurate navigation.
  3. Base Plate Compass – similar to the magnetic compass in appearance. Its arrow has also mark with a red mark to indicate the cardinal direction. It is also known for it is the most affordable type of compass.

Certain types of compasses do not use magnets for them to function. Some of these include:

  1. GPS Compass – a compass that uses data from satellites in order to indicate cardinal directions. However, it can have interruptions when the signals from the satellite are too weak or there are many disturbances.
  2. Gyro Compass – a compass that is usually a must for travelers at sea. It is electrically powered and detects the gravitation pull of the earth to determine the direction the ship is heading in. It can usually be found in the captain’s room.
  3. Astrocompass – this compass uses the location of the heavenly bodies in order to indicate direction.


Before you use a compass, you must know the parts responsible for its job. Aside from the gravity, a compass has its own components to make it work.Travel arrow – this is the arrow that has mark on the top part of your compass. You will use this in order to indicate and match the direction towards the map or the landmark you are heading to.

🧭 Orienting Arrow – a white arrow that has a red outline that looks like a placeholder for the magnetic arrow. This arrow, along with the magnetic arrow, will be used for indicating direction.

📌 Magnetic Arrow – a red arrow that should is matching with the orienting arrow in order to follow the magnetic north.

🧭 Compass Ring – a ring that can you can rotate in order to adjust the orientation of the arrows towards the direction you wish to go to.

📌 Declination Scale – marked with specific numbers and angles in order for you to calculate the amount of declination needed to locate the true north

🧭 Housing or Baseplate – this is the interface in which the camping is housed or enveloped in. It is very important to take care of this part because not doing so can damage the interior. It can also affect the function of the compass.


📌 Firstly, you would need to know how to utilize your compass and your map for direction. One thing to keep in mind is the concept known as declination. This means that the true north of the earth and the magnetic north that the compass is detecting is not entirely the same. The fix for this is adjusting the screws. Or by adding the numbers up by sight if your compass lacks screws. And by a few degrees depending on the location.

📌 To ensure you know the solution for the declination, make sure you do research on the area itself before you even get there. Next, place the compass on the map and in line with the cardinal direction where you want to go. And adjust the ring of the compass until the north of your compass and the north of the topographic map are aligning.

📌 Now turn towards a direction until the two arrows of the compass line up. The cardinal direction in which you adjusted the compass to is currently being located. Please take note that this is for primary usage of compasses (Magnetic and Base Plates Compasses). But they function similarly to other types of compasses.


In the event that you lack a map and get it missing on your way back to your campsite, try your best to remember the landmarks that were nearby your location. Next, point the travel arrow in the compass towards the site and rotate the ring until the red mark of the orienting arrow is aligning with the magnetic arrow.

Now proceed on your path. Follow the direction where you pointed the arrow, which should lead to the direction of the landmark. Once in the landmark, try your best to locate your campsite from a higher view. If you are still unable to find your way back, call for help or use an SOS device. You can use devices such as a flare gun or a whistle to get the attention of people nearby.


You should prepare in the event that you forget the way. Especially if you know you are travelling to a different and more secluded part of the wilderness. Preparing for the worst means not only relying on your current resources. Bringing along other resources can serve the same function.

For example, you can bring your small power banks along with a phone that has a compass application. Compass application does not require a GPS satellite nor a signal. It simply uses the magnetic functions of the phone in order to operate. Other options also include bringing SOS devices. Such devices are flare guns, going out as a group, having a satellite phone which gives you the best chance of calling for help in the wilderness or having a tour guide or personnel that know the area well.

Also, take note that you should never enter restricted areas that have blocks due to safety reasons. Also, it would be best if you stayed away too far from your campsite without any equipment. Both of these circumstances can be potentially dangerous and even fatal.


Compasses are relatively inexpensive because their prices only range from $10-$50. This is still inexpensive considering how much they can help you in navigation. Most of them are also very light and pocket-sized, which make them very convenient to carry around everywhere.

Compasses are especially useful if you like camping and going out in the wilderness, as they can act as emergency navigation devices when your other options, such as the GPS, fails to work. However, using a compass is almost never new for experienced campers. People learning how a compass works are also considering one of the core skills of becoming a camper. So make sure you do extensive research on various types of compass that you may use during your camping trip.


Using a compass in your camping trip can be confusing at first, but every outdoor explorer should learn this skill. Losing your way when going back to your campsite is a common event that happens. Especially if there are many various scenarios and distractions along the way. As always, a good camper knows how to find their way out of unavoidable situations. And most importantly, they are already preparing for it before it even happens.

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