L.L.Bean Essential Skills: How to Use a Compass

“There is no excuse for getting lost if you carry a good compass and know how to use it.”

—Leon Leonwood Bean, Hunting, Fishing, and Camping

As technology evolves, so do our gadgets. We won’t deny that fun new tools like handheld navigation systems and GPS watches turn us into complete gear junkies—but there’s still a strong satisfaction in knowing how to navigate with a basic compass. And for any adventurer, the ability to find your bearings without the help of batteries is an essential skill.

Step one: Get to know your compass.

Basic parts of a baseplate compass.

Compass styles vary, but the same basic principles apply to most models. For our purposes, we’ll use a baseplate compass.

–      Baseplate: The clear, plastic base.

–      Direction of travel arrow: Printed on the baseplate, this arrow points away from the compass.

–      Degree dial: A twistable, 360-degree dial outside of the compass housing.

–      Magnetic needle: The spinning needle within the compass housing.

–      Orienting arrow: The fixed arrow within the compass housing that points north.

Step two: Find your bearing.

Some compasses (like the Silva Ranger, above) come equipped with a split-sighting mirror for precise landmark navigation. Flickr: Eli Sagor.

To head in a cardinal direction:
Hold the compass flat in front of you, near the center of your chest. Twist the dial so that the degree lines up in the direction you wish to travel (i.e., align the W on the degree dial with the direction of travel arrow). Then, turn your body with the compass until the magnetic needle aligns with the orienting arrow. You will now be facing in the direction you wish to travel.

To head toward a target object:
First, find north by aligning the orienting arrow with the magnetic needle. Next, locate a target object in the distance that is in the direction that you wish to travel. Turn your body to face it, and realign the orienting arrow with the magnetic needle. Once centered, make note of the degree mark beneath the direction of travel arrow. You are now facing the direction you wish to travel.

Ready to take your skills a bit further? Many of our retail locations feature map and compass clinics—just visit the home page of an L.L.Bean store near you to view upcoming dates.

What else do you think is an essential skill for being outdoors? Tell us in the comments below!

Add your comment

About You

This is the name that will be displayed publicly with your comment.
It is not necessary to use your full name.

Your email address will not be displayed publicly
with your comment

Email Updates
Exclusive sales, special offers and more
Comment guidelines
Be detailed and specific, focusing on the writer’s story.
For your privacy, please don’t include your name or personal information.
All comments are reviewed by L.L.Bean prior to publishing.
Obscenities, critical or spiteful comments and discriminatory language.
Advertisements, “spam,” references to other products, offers or Web sites.
Email, URLs, phone numbers, addresses or other contact information.