Map & Compass


HPSS 2282 - Course Website






Compass & MapMap & Compass (HPSS 2282)

Ron Watters, Professor of Outdoor Education

Department of Human Performance and
Sport Studies

Idaho State University

HPSS 2282 - 1 Credit (Fall Semester)
HPSS 4491 - 1 Credit (Summer Workshop)

Brief Description: The use of map and compass is one of the most basic of outdoor skills.  This class is designed to provide enough information and practical experience that students will feel comfortable with land navigation techniques.  Topics covered include:  map symbols, contour line identification, Universal Transverse Mercator Coordinate System, township and range surveying system, latitude and longitude, map scales, declination, resection and map and field bearings.  During the class students go on three map and compass courses. 


Course Syllabus:  

Course Syllabus


The Map & Compass Course will be held at the following times and places:


FRIDAY EVE (Check Class Schedule for Exact Date). 7:00 - 10:00 PM. Meet at the Outdoor Adventure Office, downstairs Student Union Building.


SATURDAY (Check Class Schedule for Exact Date). 8:00 AM - 6:00 PM. Meet at the Outdoor Adventure Office, downstairs Student Union Building


SUNDAY, (Check Class Schedule for Exact Date). 8:00 AM - 8:00 PM. Meet at the Outdoor Adventure Office, downstairs Student Union Building. Note that the class goes until 8:00 PM on Sunday.


Maps, compasses and other classroom materials are supplied.  You'll need a notebook, pen, small pack and water.  Wear clothing appropriate for the weather.  Weather can change quickly in the fall, and you should bring warm clothing and rain gear if it's needed.


Lecture Materials

The following is the entire lecture (arranged in step-by-step manner) on the use of map and compass:

Lecture: Map Bearings, Field Bearings and More

Below are the specific topics which are covered in the above lecture:

Map Bearings (How to determine a bearing on a map)


Applying Map Bearings to the Field (How to take a map bearing and use it in the field)


Field Bearings (How to determine a compass bearing while in the field)


There are Three Ways to Apply a Field Bearing to the Map:

Identify Landmarks (You know where you are and you want to identify one or more distant landmarks)


Find Your Location Along a Stream or Trail (You do not know where you are, but you can identify one distant landmark. This technique will pinpoint your location along a stream, trail, or ridgeline.)


Find Your Location Anywhere (You do not know where you are but can identify two distant landmarks. This technique will pinpoint your location.)

Additional Lecture Information:

Compasses & Declination


Additional Helpful Information

Recommended Compass


Silva CompassSilva 515 Ranger Compass. This link takes you what I feel is the best compass for outdoor navigation, and the pricing is the best I've found. I own a Silva which I've used for 40 years, and yours will last that long as well. If you do some comparison shopping, check to make sure that the compass has a separate black arrow which is used to measure slope angle (called an inclinometer or clinometer). That's important. Also check the degree scale. It should run from 0 to 360. There's a version of the Silva Ranger compass in which the degrees are divided into quadrants from 0 to 90. It usually has a Q in the model name, like Silva 15CLQ. Don't buy it. It's nearly impossible to use quandrant compasses for outdoor navigation work. Rather make sure that the compass has a full 360 range. (Approximately $90)


Supplementary Information:


Teaching Map & Compass Courses. This not a required reading assignment for the course, but if you'd like some background on the class, it provides details on my philosophy of teaching map and compass, the teaching progression I use for the class, and reasons why I cover certain types of material. 


I Have My Art. This is personal story about an incident in which a map, compass and art all played a role.


Why it's a real mistake to count on a cellphone or GPS when you go hiking. An article from the Washington Post on the importance of knowing how to use a map and a compass.




Pub History: This page was originally located at the following URL:


Information on Idaho State University Outdoor Education is found here: ISU Outdoor Education


Subsidary sites with information are found here:



eWeb (Europe)

Google Sites (US)

Google Web

Hostinger (Great Britain)


Google +

Word Press






Top of Page