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How to Take a Bearing Using a Map and Compass

When it comes to navigation most people learn how to take a bearing quite early on. It is a simple but effective navigational tool and is certainly not as complicated as most people think. Here is a very easy to follow guide for how to take a bearing using a map and compass.

Step One:
Locate on your OS Map the bearing you want to take.
So if I was standing at the blue circle (A) and wanted to walk to the purple circle (B) using a compass bearing, I first need to simply locate both A and B on the map.

Locating yourself on an OS Map

Step Two:
Find out which way on the map is North. You can do this easily, just make sure the text is the correct way up, so you can read it, then North is pointing to the top of the map.

North and arrow on OS Map

Step Three:
Place the compass on the map and connect A and B with the edge of the compass.

Compass connecting two points on a map

Step Four:
Twist the round bit on the compass (called the compass housing) until the lines inside the compass housing are parallel to the lines on your map and that the big red arrow marked on the compass housing (not the red needle that actually moves, ignore that) points to the north of your map.

Compass Housing facing North of a map

Step Five:
Double check you have done step four correctly. The biggest mistake people make when taking a bearing is they get the lines in the compassing housing parallel to the lines on the map but they forget to check the big red arrow points to the north of the map (and actually it is pointing south).

Mistake with Compass Housing on a Map

Step Six:
Take your compass off the map and work out what number the black line is indicating.

Reading the compass bearing of 139

Step Seven:
You have your bearing, well done.

That is all you have to do to take a bearing using a map and compass. If you want to learn how to then follow a bearing please read our “How to follow a bearing” article.
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