By: Blonde One


The compass is the most important thing to take with you when you’re out on a long hill walk. It can get you out of trouble and also help to ensure you have a lovely day. It can also create an extra level of challenge and adventure if you want it to.

It’s important to know what all the features of a compass are and what they are used for. So here goes …

  1. This is the baseplate. It is the plastic rectangular housing and should be about 10 cm long. Some baseplates have a handy magnifier too.
  2. The bezel (or turny bit as we Blondes like to call it) is the bit that turns round and has the numbers (0 – 360) for the bearing written on.
  3. The needle floats in liquid and the red end will point to north (unless you’ve accidentally stored your compass next to your phone).
  4. These lines are the orienting lines and they should be lined up with the grid lines on your map when you are taking a bearing.
  5. This red arrow is the orienting arrow. It is so that you can line up the red floating needle in order to follow your bearing.
  6. These numbers are the declination numbers so that you can easily work of the difference between grid and magnetic north. No need to worry about this on Dartmoor at the moment.
  7. The index line is usually white and sits under the bezel always in line with the red arrow (number 5).
  8. This is the important one! The direction of travel arrow will show you which way to walk when you have taken your bearing.
  9. This is called the Romer and matches up with the scale on your map. There is usually a 1:25000 and a 1:50000. Sometimes there is a 1:40000 too. You can use the Romer to measure more precise distances and to find a precise grid reference.

Both of the Silva and Suunto brands are very good options for purchasing a compass but make sure that the baseplate isn’t too short. Cheap compasses will work but don’t tend to last very long; as a very good friend of mine likes to say: “buy cheap, buy twice”!

Not only do you need to know about the parts of your compass but, more importantly, you need to know how to use it. Get in touch for a bespoke navigation training day or join us on our night navigation course on November12th.