Compass Basics – Staying on a Bearing

Once you have established a bearing that you need to follow, unless you are on a clearly visible path, and you know where the path is headed, you’ll need to give yourself the skills to stay on that bearing to your intended destination.

The easiest way to do this is to pick a visible land feature which sits along the bearing in a straight line between you and your next intended destination. You could pick anything that’s permanently fixed, such as a like a rock or a cairn, a tree or some other identifiable clump of vegetation – maybe even a small knoll. Check that it lies on your bearing, and taking care not to move your compass bezel off its bearing, put the compass in your pocket and simply walk to the feature you have chosen.
Once you arrive at the feature, take out your compass (checking that the bezel has not moved) and repeat the process – identifying a new feature along your bearing to walk to, and so on until you reach your intended destination.

You’ll find this process much easier if you can find two features which align to your bearing and walk in a straight line past one, and then onwards to the other.

In poor visibility you will need to shorten these legs to keep your accuracy at its best. 

It’s also possible to do this in reverse to check you haven’t strayed from your initial bearing – this is known as taking or checking a ‘back-bearing’. We’ve explained it in detail in a separate post >> Using a Back Bearing

As with all of our Navigation Basics we strongly recommend you practice these skills in a well known area, such as a valley bottom before you rely on them in less familiar surroundings.