How to Use a Compass Without a Map and Get Home Safely

Military reconnaissance teams, which usually consist of three to four members, always have one person counting steps and keeping track of the bearing. This way, they can ensure they don’t get lost.

For example, let’s say you’ve parked your car at the edge of a forest, and you want to do a little hiking trip. Follow these steps to use the pacing method to track your movements and make your way back:

Step 1: Determine Your Heading

Pull out your compass and determine your heading before you start walking. If the direction you’ll take is due north (0° on the compass), write that down in your notebook and start walking.

Step 2: Count Your Steps

Begin counting your steps as soon as you start walking and do not stop until you stop walking. If you need to talk to someone on the phone or do anything that will draw focus away from counting steps, I suggest you stop walking.

Step 3: Determine Your New Heading and Write Down the Steps

When you reach a turning point (i.e., you’re going to change your bearing), stop, and write down how many steps you’ve taken so far. The note should look like this: 0°(N) — 2550 steps

Let’s say you’re turning right, for example. Pull out your compass and point it due north, even if your heading so far wasn’t north — this process is identical for all direction changes. Lock your arms in once you get it and rotate your entire body in the direction you’re about to take.

You’ll notice that your needle is still pointing north, but the dial isn’t showing that. Rotate the dial until the N (north) mark lines up with the needle.

Without moving, take a look at the front of your compass. There’s most likely going to be a line there (you can do it without a line, but it’ll be less accurate). The number on the top of the dial beneath the line is your bearing!