Don't know which way to go? A compass is an amazing little gadget that will help you navigate in your vehicle, or on foot, through the mountains or woods. It's a camping and hiking necessity that ensures safety when you're feeling lost and finding your direction is of the utmost importance.

How a Compass Works

You don't have to know exactly how a compass works to use one, but it's very interesting nonetheless. There are three main parts to a compass:

  • The magnetic needle
  • A dial with the "north" arrow
  • A base plate

Every compass has a needle that is magnetized, one side of the needle is the "pointer" and usually has a red-colored tip. The magnetic forces point to the earth's core, where the magnetic field of the earth originates, which is approximately to the north.

Most modern compasses encase the needle inside of a compartment that is filled with fluid, allowing the needle to stop quicker, other than fledging around before stopping. Cheap compasses often don't have fluid-filled housing and are more difficult to use because motion often interferes with it's reading. In order to work properly, the needle must be able to rotate to align itself up with magnetic field. Compasses work best when combined with a map and knowing where you were to begin with.

How to Use a Compass

An adult generally knows basic directions but a child will have to be taught before he can use a compass efficiently. First, you should hold the compass level in front of yourself, allowing the needle to point to the north. Next, rotate the housing part until the needle is aligned to the orienting arrow on the base to set it. To find out the direction of a desired location, Read the bearing on the line that points in the direction of the landmark.

It takes awhile to get the hang of it. If you're teaching children, it's best to go outside and give them a tutorial before you even leave home. Let them play around with it and ask questions as they go. Depending on the type of compass, you might need a refresher too. Technology changes and you can always find compasses with new features to help you navigate.

“A great many people, and more all the time, live their entire lives without ever once sleeping out under the stars.” - Alan S. Kesselheim