How to Find North Using a Compass

A compass is a tool we use to determine our direction and position. It predates the GPS and Google Maps.

How does a compass work?

The most important component of a compass is the needle – a magnet balanced on a central pivot that will always point to magnetic north. The end that points north is coloured red.

A common hand-held compass

A common hand-held compass

How to find north with a compass

North is wherever the red end of the needle is pointing.

How do I ensure I’m facing north?

To accurately face north, hold your compass out in front of you, making sure the compass is level (horizontal). If the compass is not level, it can restrict the free rotation of the needle and give you a false reading.

With the compass level and pointing away from you, look down the directional arrow of the compass and rotate your bodyslowly on the spot. Watch the needle – as you rotate, it spins in the opposite direction!

When the red end of the needle and the directional arrow line up, you’re facing north. Simple.

One Response to “How to Find North Using a Compass”

  1. Charles | 13/11/12

    I have a question for you please. I am a history buff and a little confused about compass directions in an article I read recently. In 1814, an engineer in the army of Andrew Jackson recorded some directional information as the army left the city of Mobile, AL in the U.S. They were heading to New Orleans, LA via a circuitous route. He states:
    “The dog river ferry (from Mobile) is about No. 65 West using a pocket compass, and distant about 20 miles”.

    Question:
    Is he talking about 65 degrees, as seen on a hand held compass? If so, he would be heading basically southeast, not west. Can you help me understand this problem?

    Thank You

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