How to Use a Compass

Last updated: November 24, 2020, at 4:00 p.m. PT

Originally published: November 24, 2020, at 4:00 p.m. PT


Hello friends! This is M.E.W. from YMCA Camp Colman and today I’m going to show you how to use a compass. It’s pretty simple once you have the hang of it, but it can be tricky to explain. I’ll do my best to show you all how to do this so you have an easier time orienting yourselves to the world.

What you’ll need

  • Compass for each person participating
  • A large open space, such as a park or large room
  • 4 easily distinguishable objects per person (If you have cones, great! Otherwise, these can be things like markers, pens, pieces of brightly colored paper, etc. They will be placed on the ground, so things that can get dirty as well!)

First steps

First thing first, I’m going to show you all the different parts of the compass. The picture below has arrows pointing to each of the important parts of the compass, and below that is what each part does.

Image with arrows calling out the different parts of a compass
  • Needle: The needle always points in the north direction. You will use the needle and the needle housing to point whatever direction you choose
  • Needle Housing: Moves with the degree housing, used in conjunction (together) with the needle to point in certain directions
  • You-Go Arrow: Points in the direction that you will be walking. Should be facing away from your body.
  • Degree Signifier: Shows what degree the compass is oriented in. When used in conjunction with the needle and needle housing, allows user to see what direction the user is pointed.
  • Degree Housing: Moves around, this is how the user can set what degree they wish to point. Has small tic marks on the outside with degrees and directions, and the user can read the degree the compass is set to by looking at the degree signifier.
  • Ruler: Not all compasses will have this handy feature, just a simple ruler to measure distance. Now, if that seemed like a lot of nonsensical words, that’s ok! I will now go into how to use all of the different pieces of the compass.

Getting your bearings

  • Step 1: Turn your compass to the south direction. This is signified either by an “S” or by 180 degrees on the compass.
  • Step 2: Now, holding the compass flat in your hand, slowly turn your body so that red section of the needle sits in the needle housing. When this all happens, congratz! You are now pointing in the south direction.
  • Step 3: Now, try facing the other directions, and then we will use this knowledge to do a short orienteering activity.

Making a box

  • Step 1: Place yourself in a large area with nothing around you for about 20 ft. Keep your distinguishable objects (D.O.’s) in-hand, we will use them over the course of this activity.
  • Step 2: Turn your compass to north and face that direction. Place a D.O. down at your feet and then take ten paces in the north direction, walking in the same direction as the you-go arrow.
  • Step 3: In your new spot, turn your compass to the west direction, place a D.O. at your feet, and walk ten paces in the west direction.
  • Step 4: Turn your compass to the south direction, place a D.O. at your feet, and walk ten paces in the south direction.
  • Step 5: Lastly, turn your compass to the east direction, place a D.O. at your feet, and walk ten paces in the east direction.
  • Step 6: Now, take a look around. If you completed the activity correctly, you should be standing at your first D.O. Additionally, your D.O.’s should be creating a box, each point around ten paces apart. If this is not the case, try again! Practice these things and over time you will become a pro!

Hurray! If you completed all these activities successfully, then you’re a compass using master! The next steps are to learn how to triangulate your position using a map and a compass, among other things. But, this is the end of the road for me, so I see you all later in another guide!

Category: Camp Activity