Quality Mountain Days
                                                                 & Advanced workshops

Using the Compass

We previously dealt with Setting the Map and Contour Interpretation. Using these two skills often means that you don't need to use your compass very much but there will be times when good compass skills are essential. The skills described here should not be used in isolation from those learned previously and those forthcoming.. It is not a good idea to simply set a bearing on your compass and head off across mountain country without incorporating many of the other skills you know with (e.g. setting the map, contour interpretation, estimating distance, route choice). Build up your compass skills progressively on paths and other prominent linear features which provide feedback about the accuracy of the course you are following.
 To recap: 
The important features of a compass for mountain navigation are shown in fig. 1

Large baseplate – so you can take bearings between places several kilometres apart and also to provide a definite 'direction of travel' in your hand.
Magnifying glass – even if your vision is perfect, you need this for seeing fine detail and for clarity in rain and snow.
Scale or Romer for measuring distances on 1:50,000 and 1:25,000 scale maps.
Rubber feet for gripping the mapcase when taking bearings.

Useable with mitts or gloves - including being able to rotate the compass housing.

A compass like this performs two functions – it is both a magnetic compass and a protractor for taking bearings.
  Fig 1: A Mountaineer's compass  



You need to attach your compass so that you can leave go of it without losing it and also use it to take bearings from the map and hold it up when following a bearing. A simple and effective method which can be used with any combination of clothing or equipment is a long cord which goes over one shoulder (Fig 2).

When using the compass
for taking or following
bearings, you can slip
your arm through the loop
(Figs 3 & 4).
Fig 2: Compass attachment cord goes over one shoulder. Fig 3: Using the knee as a firm surface to take a bearing. Fig 4: Following a bearing on the ground


Important: Participation Statement

Climbing, hillwalking and mountaineering are activities with a danger of personal injury or death.
Participants in these activities should be aware of and accept these risks and be responsible for their own actions and involvement.

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