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Tips for Orienteering and Using a Compass

April 06, 2015

Orienteering and compassskills are obviously useful for people interested in competitive and recreational orienteering as well as being handy life skills to have if you are planning a camping holiday or are cycling or walking through the country.

Before you start out, familiarise yourself with maps so you are comfortable reading them. As we have become so use to using Google Maps and other kinds of satellite navigation, very few of us actually use traditional maps until it is the last resort so get used to reading the different aspects of an old fashioned paper map such as the scale and the key.

Maps designed for walkers typically have a 1:25,000 scale (the scale will be stated on the map) so you can use this and a ruler to predetermine the length of your journey. The map will also have a ‘legend’ which a key used to identify different elements of the land such as trees and rivers and a compass direction to indicate where north will be, this will help you make the connection between what you are seeing on the map and the direction your compass is indicating. Maps are divided into a grid based on the National Grid references so you can work out the longitude and latitude of your destination.

However, you cannot just use your compass straight away; the red end of the compass needle points to magnetic north, which is always different depending on where in the world you are and the time of year whilst maps are based on map grid north. Luckily your map will state the difference that you need to adjust your compass by, which will be a few degrees east or west and you simply rotate the degree dial accordingly. Even if the difference does not seem that much it can add up to hundreds of feet when translated into real distance.

Your compassis actually a multi-tool whilst orienteering and is designed to go hand in hand with your map; the compass housing, the circle that the needle is in, will have lines of orientation that you can use to line up with your map and the base plate that supports it has arrows to help indicate the direction you are heading as well as scales to help you translate your map and work out the six figure grid reference. A good compass will also have a small magnifying glass to help you read the map with ease and a circular hole to use as a stencil on your map to mark out the various points you will be travelling to. Once your compass is aligned, stand holding it with the direction of travel arrow pointing directly in front of you and walk in a circle until the compass needle and orienteering arrow in the compass housing have lined up.

Now that you have got to grips with your compass you can begin your orienteering journey. Make sure that your map is folded so that it is easy to handle and locate your points of destination then rotate it so that it is in line with the direction of your compasses. Most people use their thumb to keep a track of where they are on the map and their control points. You should always refer back to your control card to make sure it matches the various control points that you will meet on your route. Once you have learned the basic skills, orienteering is an enjoyable activity that gets you outside and encourages basic skills.

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