How to Find Yourself

We’ve put together a video on how to use a map and compass to find yourself and as usual there is a text version below.

Understanding how to use a compass along with reading the terrain around you and comparing it to a topo map will provide all the information you need to confirm where you are or find where you are. The first step is to orient your compass, your map, and yourself to magnetic north so you and your tools have the same frame of reference.

Next, look around at the terrain for things that will give you a rough idea of where you are on the map. Let say you are at a road intersection. You can look for road intersections on the map as a place to start. But be careful when you do this. Roads move a lot more often than you think they do, even major highways. Check the data on the edges of your map for the date of the information and always take road information with a grain of salt.

Suppose you see a sign that says 707B. The sign here is a little sketchy and you should remain suspect but it makes for a decent place to start in pin pointing your location.

Then, describe the terrain around you. Notice that there are mountains to your west and they are running generally from north to south. Notice that to your east the ground is clear of trees and is sloping down away from you.

Next look at your map and see if what you just described matches where you think you are.

Since the terrain matches you should have more confidence that you are at the start of Forest Road 707B.

But we can be more confident of this if we use our compass. Pick at least two prominent terrain features that you can see from where you are standing and are also on your map. They should form as close to a 90° angle as possible. I’ll use Point Crawford and a rocky hilltop to the south.

The hilltop is at a direction of 166° from you. But you need the direction from the hilltop to you, so add 180 to 166 to get 346°.

Then orient the map to magnetic north. Rotate the center ring of the compass so that 346° lines up with the center line. Place the center line on the hilltop and rotate the compass until the north line aligns with the north needle. Make a point at the end of the center line and then draw a line from the hilltop through the point. You are somewhere along this line.

Do the same with the second land mark. Where these two lines intersect is near your location. There is likely to be some error in your calculation but this will give you a very close approximation to where you are.

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