Taking a Compass Bearing is an essential navigation skill. A Compass Bearing is the direction of travel from A to B, expressed in degrees. We use degrees rather the traditional cardinal points (North, South, East and West) as its more accurate, especially over longer distances. There are 360 degrees in a circle. North is 0 or 360 degrees, South is 180, West is 90 and East is 270.
Taking a Compass Bearing
There are three steps to take a bearing. This is sometimes referred to as the Silva 1-2-3 method after the Silva brand of compass. In this guide, we’re going to look at the Purple Mountains in Kerry (OSI Map 78).
Step 1 – Position the compass along the line of travel
Identify your two points A (where I am) and B (where I’m going) on the map (hint know your grid references).
Place the compass along the line of travel. You can use either the edge of the compass or the inner black line. Make sure the directional arrow is pointing in the direction of travel
Step 2 – Turn the Dial
Turn the dial of the compass so the lines inside the housing are aligned with the vertical grid lines. The red arrow inside the dial is now pointing to the top of the map (Grid North) and the black lines site on top or parallel with the blue lines.
The number just below the directional arrow is your bearing. In our example, it’s 52 degrees. You’ll need to adjust for magnetic variation. In our example, we have a variation of 4 degrees making an updated bearing of 56 (we’ll discuss why and how we adjust for this in our next tutorial).
Step 3 – Go!
Once you have you’re bearing, it’s time to get moving. (In the below examples we’re using a bearing of 48 degrees).
Place the compass flat on your hand near your belly button your belly button with the directional arrow pointing away from you (make sure there are no metal objects close to it that might affect the reading).
Turn your entire body so the two red arrows are lined up. I’ve always liked the mnemonic “Put Red Fred in His Red Bed”. You are now facing the correct direction.
Pick a point ahead of you and walk to it. Check your bearing again and readjust your direction if needed. Be mindful of your surroundings and don’t walk with your head stuck in your compass. This is how accidents happen.
Do this until you reach point B. You use timing, pacing and feature recognition to know you’ve arrived at point B. We’ll discuss these skills and others soon.
Here are some other links to check out
How to use a Map and Compass – Ordnance Survey Ireland
The Compass & Taking a Bearing – Mountaineering Ireland/Star Outdoors
Silva 1-2-3 System – Silva
For more guides on map and compass skills, check out the rest of our Navigation 101 series. Let us know in the comments if we missed anything.