Dirt Time 8 – Compass

We all know we need to be aware of the region in which we have decided to either “bug out to” or get to in a survival situation. Having a Map of the area, marked out with the location and route to get there is part of the plan. During the planning of your “get to safety”, you should at the very least have a map of the area. Great!. 20170304_204203But what about unforeseen situations arising and your route is blocked for some reason or another.  Navigating around in the wilderness or in an urban area should be a skill every novice survivalist needs to master. OK not master, but at least have a firm grip of the basics. We are not talking about celestial navigation, We are talking about using a compass and a map, to get you to a location you feel is a safe haven. Be it Home, or a predetermined rendezvous point with the rest of your survival group.

Your well thought out , pre planned safe haven route, has just turned out to be not so safe. Now you have to get to another point or deviate from your original planned route. (Hopefully your plan includes a backup point you have in your “get out of here plan.”) Getting there may require you to be able to navigate by compass as roads, paths etc. maybe unsafe travel lanes. In my case I would be planning to get back to my base or nearest safe haven in a personal emergency. I need to know how to navigate by Compass. Understanding this requires me to use the #8 C in the 10 C’s of survival. The compass.

As we plan our survival strategy we must always take into consideration the ever present  “Murphy’s Law”. If it can go wrong it will. We cannot plan for every scenario, But we can be as prepared as possible to deal with it. The Compass is a great under utilized tool. The word navigation has all sorts of effects on the average Joe. “I’m not a sailor”, “I don’t know how to use a compass”, “There is no water within 100 miles of me”, “where is north”, and many other thoughts go through our mind. Well Ok my mind. To tell the truth, Compass navigation is not my strong point. I struggled with it, in my time in the  Military, and that was 30 years ago. When I was reasonably smart. Now…Not so much. What I learned in the Military, I have long forgotten. It’s time to renew that acquaintance. So without further ado. Here we go.

The Compass:

From Wikipedia: I quote ……

‘A compass is an instrument used for navigation and orientation that shows direction relative to the geographic “cardinal directions“, or “points”. Usually, a diagram called a compass rose shows the directions north, south, east, and west on the compass face as abbreviated initials. When the compass is used, the rose can be aligned with the corresponding geographic direct………” OH GOOD LORD!. That was a mistake.

Here, hopefully this will make you (me) feel better. A picture of my Compass.

Silva, Ranger Compass Model 515

Ok!, Now we have a compass. However before we go on our little Navigation learning trip.

(NOTE: First and foremost. If you find yourself in a “lost” situation. Be prepared to admit it. Understand you are lost. DO NOT PANIC. Yes I have said this before and it especially applies to this scenario. You need to have a clear head to be able to navigate. It requires you to think clearly. Panic will distort your thinking. You will doubt the compass bearing, you can become very disorientated and make a bad “lost situation” even worse. Take the time to settle your thoughts. Then begin the process.)

There are a few things we need to be clear on. These are the navigation knowledge points we need to know and be comfortable with. They Include:

Understanding how to read a map. Every good topographic map should have minimum information on it.

A typical map legend and A hand draw map I did after scouting a area I planned to go into. The map shows North arrow and you can see I aligned the North arrow with the North pointing arrow on the compass. Very basic map, but better than not having a map at all.

  •  North arrow
  • Scale
  • Legend
  • Declination angle

These should be on any “Good” map of an area.

Use of a Compass. (One that meets a minimum requirement.)


  1. Magnetic needles. Points towards Magnetic North
  2. Azimuth Ring. ( North, South, East and West. With degrees for 360. (2 deg increments best)
  3. Base plate
  4. Dog House. (Orienting arrow)
  5. Orienting lines (Declination lines)
  6. Optional items (Not necessary but handy). Magnifier, scale on side of base plate, Mirror, luminous dials and needle and Declination adjustment.

Typical nomenclature used in determining a bearing. (Navigating)

Magnetic north is actually the true north a compass will point to. However because the world is round and maps are “flat”. we need to adjust for this difference. This is called declination. All good maps will give you the declination of the map. 20170305_203755If you are going to be plotting a long distance to travel, you will need to take this change into account. Relatively short distances will be less affected by this.

Dog House is a term used for the orienting arrow on a compass. ( I believe it comes from the fact that the arrow typically looks like a drawn dog house)

Azimuth Ring, this is the moving ring around a Compass, that has the points of a compass. North, south, east and west. North west etc. etc. It is marked in degrees and there are 360 Degrees in the complete circle.

Orienting lines, These are lines on your compass that assist you in adjusting for declination.

The basic process is listed below.

Found this “pin” on Pinterest.
  1. Orient your map so the north arrow on it points north.
  2. Determining as precisely as possible you location on a map you have. (Using landmarks)
  3. Determine where you want to go to, on the map.
  4. Determine the direction you will need to move in order to get to that location
  5. Using this direction use the compass to keep your bearing.
  6. Move in the direction the compass guides you until you get to your destination.

Now to be honest, I have tried to put the whole process into words. A number of times to no avail. Its very confusing. So I will send you to a Compass video  on one of my favorite You Tube channels. (NOTE: Survival on Purpose is a great resource. There are many videos on survival skills and reviews on tools you may be interested in. I really like his under $xx.xx videos  which gives you ideas for items you might need in that price range). I know its the easy way out. However I would rather you see the correct easy to understand process, than my confused written explanation. And I consider this channel one of my “Go To Experts” for this kind of information. Should you find this channel help full please subscribe and support a great resource. A link to Bryan Stevens channel can be found under Survival on Purpose on my resource page, under Links to You Tube survival sites.

I highly recommend you become familiar with the area you to plan to go to. Scout it out. This becomes especially important in a Urban situation. Being familiar with easily recognized landmarks is half the navigation. Streets, Roads and highways travel in certain directions. Large prominent building or structures should be marked on the map to help in Urban navigation. Being familiar with them will make  your task that much easier. Scouting a wilderness location is just as important. Maps are a general layout. But in real life, Mother nature changes regularly. Keep current with your location.make sure to visit the area on a regular basis, and update your maps for future reference.

I hope to have my own video soon for you to get confused with. But in the mean time lets use an expert source to get us going in the right direction.

Remember “Knowledge is a survival skill”

Even if that knowledge means referring to an expert

Cargo Tape


Until next time. #9 Cargo Tape.

The Novice Survivalist




One Comment on “Dirt Time 8 – Compass

  1. Pingback: Dirt Time 8 – Compass | The Novice Survivalist

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