Find Your Way: Learn the Basics of Map and Compass

Whether you're backpacking Yellowstone, trekking through unmarked terrain, tracking and hunting prey, or simply interested in orienteering, the map and compass are invaluable for staying on course.

Put in its simplest terms, the compass is your guide to anywhere you want to go on the map. Orienteering, or the skill of navigation using a topographical map and compass, is the technique of interpreting what your compass is telling you and transferring that information to your map.

More: An Introduction to Orienteering

Following are some map and compass tips to help you learn the basic terminology and become better acquainted with the in's and out's of navigating with them. 

The Map

Not all maps are created equal, and know that a topographical map works best for orienteering.

A topographical map consists of contour lines and a legend depicting natural and manmade features on the terrain. The scale of the topographical map most commonly used for map and compass navigation is 1:24,000, otherwise known as the seven and a half minute map, produced by the United States Geological Survey (USGS).

What this scale means is that the distance depicted by one inch on your map equals to 24,000 inches on the ground.

More: 7 Ways to Enhance Your Everyday Hike

The contour lines on the map are the brown lines that follow terrain. Each line is a measure of altitude, so if you see several lines close together, this means that area represents a steep increase in elevation. The distance in altitude between each contour line is 40 feet.

Other features on your topographical map include bodies of water, depressions and manmade features.

The Compass

While the map and compass perform similar duties, and work hand in hand, it's important you know how to use each one separately.  

More: Backpack Buying Tips

  • 1
  • of
  • 2

About the Author

John Rarity

John Rarity is an outdoors blogger and writer, as well as being an avid camper and adventurer.

Discuss This Article