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There’s more to reading a compass than finding north. Taking a bearing is an essential skill for walking, especially in winter when the night can descend quickly or the weather can turn. If you’re in the fog, for example, this is the tool to get home. You do, however, need to know where you are and where you want to get to. It’s best that you break your route down into smaller sections to alleviate the chance of wandering off-course. It takes practice, so try it out first somewhere you know well, picking features off the map. 




On the map, line the left edge of your compass so that it runs from your location to your destination, with the direction-of-travel arrow at the top of the compass pointing towards your destination on the map.

Without moving the compass, carefully turn the bezel (the twisty bit!) so the ‘N’ on the bezel points to the top of the map, and the lines in the compass housing are parallel with the lines on the map heading north-south. To be really accurate, twist the bezel anti-clockwise a further two degrees to make grid north match magnetic north.

Without moving the bezel, stand up and hold the compass in front of you, turning around until the compass needle matches with the north arrow in the compass housing (usually a red arrow).

Look up following the direction-of-travel arrow, find a natural feature (a tree, for example) that lines up and head towards it, ensuring that the compass needle is still aligned with the north arrow in the compass housing.

Once you reach the natural feature, take another compass bearing, pick another feature and repeat.

Written by Ruby Higton

Here is Ruby and she is a digital marketer at YHA. She looks after all things social media, as well as content writing for and SEO. Her favourite YHA is YHA Perranporth.

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ActivitiesHow to: take a compass bearing