Eastern Washington Orienteering Club

Using A Compass With A Map

Line up your compass with the direction of travel…

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The compass at left is a typical orienteering baseplate-type compass. Most compasses are some variation of this one and this tutorial will probably make it clear how to use whatever type of compass you have. Later, we'll show the same basic steps with a thumb compass, because they're particular to the sport of orienteering.

First, place the compass edge against the route with the direction of travel arrows on the compass facing the direction you're going to be going. Remember: in this example we're planning on going from control 4 to control 5.

Bonus Details

  • The compass shown in this section has templates for drawing circles and triangles. At an orienteering event you're often given the same map as all the other competitors. People of different competitive levels can choose different courses and will have to copy the appropriate course symbols onto their own maps. A triangle marks the start. Circles mark the control points, and straight lines (drawn using the edge of the compass) indicate the order in which the controls are supposed to be visited.
  • In the image above, we placed the right edge of the baseplate against the route. You could use the left edge, or even one of the red "direction of travel" arrows painted on the baseplate. They're all parallel to each other, and since we're measuring angles, any of them will work fine.
  • Properly orienting the map, as you did in the previous step, means that in this step the compass baseplate arrows will be pointing away from you. If you somehow place the compass backwards along the route line, you'll end up navigating in the opposite direction from the way you want to go (called a "180 error").