August 11, 2010
- Compass Basics
- Family Fun
- Upcoming DEC Events
- Long Island
- Hudson Valley - Stony Kill Farm Environmental Education Center
- Capital District - Five Rivers Environmental Education Center and Albany Pine Bush Discovery Center
- Adirondacks - Adirondack Park Agency Visitors Interpretive Centers at Newcomb and Paul Smiths
- Central New York - Rogers Environmental Education Center
- Western New York - Reinstein Woods Environmental Education Center
Reading a compass seems like an intimidating skill to many people. However, once you learn the basics and practice a little, you will find that you can read a compass with ease. This skill is useful for those who like to hike in the wilderness, and is important for sports like orienteering. These directions are based on the commonly used compass in the illustration below. Make sure you know how to use your particular compass before heading out.
Parts of a Compass
The first step to reading a compass is to understand its parts:
-The base plate is the surface on which the compass is mounted, usually a hard rectangular piece of plastic.
-The housing is the main part of the compass. It is a round plastic container that has the compass needle inside. It can be turned so you can select different bearings (degrees) for your direction of travel.
-The direction-of-travel arrow is marked on the base plate. When traveling, you point this arrow directly away from you and move in the direction it is pointing.
-The orienting arrow is marked in the housing. It rotates when the dial is turned.
-The magnetic needle turns freely within the housing. It has one end painted red to indicate north.
-A compass is divided into 360 degrees for precise locations using latitude and longitude. The cardinal points are marked on the outer ring of the housing. North is at 0 degrees (and 360 degrees), east is 90 degrees, south is 180 degrees, and west is 270 degrees.
How to Read a Compass
Now it is time to read your compass:
-Decide which direction you'd like to travel and rotate the housing until the bearing number you'd like is lined up with the "read bearing here" mark. For example, to head due north, rotate the housing until the 0 degree mark is lined up.
-Hold your compass flat and still in the palm of your hand (and against your chest) so the base plate is level and the direction-of-travel arrow is pointing straight away from you. The magnetic needle should be able to move freely, without bumping the top or bottom of the housing.
-Look down at the compass and see where the needle points.
-Turn your entire body until the magnetic needle is centered between the red lines, as shown in the figure on the left. This is referred to as "keeping the red in the shed." Make sure to do this; it will keep you heading in the right direction. The compass in our example is pointing due north (also 0 degrees).
-To determine the bearing of an object in the distance, face the object with the compass held flat in your palm as before. This time, rotate the housing until the red end of the magnetic needle is between the red lines, and "in the shed." Read the bearing number at "read bearing here." In the example shown on the right, you are heading 250 degrees west.
Send us an e-mail and tell us what you think about Outdoor Discovery.
Subscribe to Conservationist magazine-New York's award-winning publication with astonishingly beautiful photography and captivating articles.
Learn the best places to view wildlife at DEC's Watchable Wildlife pages.
Where Do I Go?
You can set up a basic course in your backyard or park to test your compass reading skills.
-Select a landmark that is within a few minutes' walk. To make the game challenging, make sure that your landmark has some obstacles in front of it.
-From the starting location, take a bearing of the landmark by aiming the orienting arrow at the landmark. Then, walk to the landmark counting your paces as you go.
-Give each of the players/teams the bearing of the landmark (for example, 100 paces 230 degrees west) and see which team finds the landmark first.
-You can make your course as long as you want by adding more landmarks.
A Modern Treasure Hunt
Letter boxing is another popular navigating activity. Letterboxers hide small waterproof boxes with a log book, a rubber stamp and an ink pad in a public place like a park. They post clues to find the letterboxes on one of several websites (you can search the internet for these). When someone finds a letterbox, they mark their journal with the rubber stamp, and if they have a personal rubber stamp, they stamp the log book. You can use a map, compass or GPS (global positioning system) for this activity as well.
Read Conservationist for Kids for more information and activities!
Crab Fishing Clinic at Corey Beach, Bayport (tentative)
Wednesday, August 25 from 5:00 PM to 7:00 PM
Call I FISH NY staff at 631-444-0283.
Bugs and Butterflies Festival
Saturday, August 14 from 10:00 AM to 2:00 PM
Summer Photo Shoot
Saturday, August 21 at 10:00 AM
Family Program: Open Barn
Saturdays, July - October from 11:00 AM to 1:00 PM
Saturday Afternoon Guided Nature Walks
Saturday, August 21 at 2:00 PM
Oaks of Five Rivers
Saturday, August 14 at 10:00 AM
Sunday, August 15 at 2:00 PM
The Great Egret
Tuesday, August 17 at 7:00 PM
Old Field Stroll
Thursday, August 19 at 10:00 AM
Saturday, August 21 at 2:00 PM
Sunday, August 22 at 2:00 PM
Tuesday, August 24 at 7:00 PM
Fade or Shade
Saturday, August 14 from 1:00 to 2:00 PM
Call 518-456-0655 to register. Cost: $2.00/person, $5.00/family, children under 5 free.
Adirondack Park Agency Newcomb Visitors Center
Buggin Out: A Study of Insect Locomotion
Friday, August 13 from 1:00 PM to 3:00 PM
Call 518-582-2000 to register. Cost: $5 per family, Adirondack Park Institute members/free.
Adirondack Park Agency Paul Smiths Visitors Center
Barnum Pond Canoe Paddle
Tuesday, August 17 and Thursday, August 19 from 9:30 AM to 11:30 AM
Call 518-327-3000 to register. Cost: $10/adults, $5/Kids 4-13, under 4 free.
Rogers on the Road: Chenango County Fair
Wednesday and Friday, August 11 and 13 from Noon to 6:00 PM
We will be at the Fair with animal skulls and skins for you to touch. There will be plenty of ecology activities for all ages.
Children's Series: Turtle Power
Friday, August 13 from 10:30 AM to Noon
Watchable Wildlife: Pursuing Porcupine
Saturday, August 14 at 1:30 PM
Night Life of the Farm Tower Trail
Saturday, August 14 at 7:30 PM
Call 607-674-4017 to register.
Watchable Wildlife: Mink and Their Kin
Sunday, August 15 at 1:30 PM
Children's Series: Fantastic Fish
Friday, August 20 from 10:30 AM to Noon
For children ages 4 to 10. Call 607-674-4017 to register by August 16.
Rogers on the Road: Wildlife Along the Unadilla River
Saturday, August 21 from 8:00 AM to 12:30 PM
Cost: $5.00 non refundable fee per paddler at registration. Call 607-674-4017 to register.
Watchable Wildlife: Pileated Woodpecker
Saturday, August 21 at 1:30 PM
Watchable Wildlife: Daytime Owl Prowl
Sunday, August 22 at 1:30 PM
Advance registration is required. Call 716-683-5959.
Double Dipping with Pollinators
Saturday, August 14 at 10:30 AM
For adults and children age 10 and older.
Tuesday, August 17 at 10:30 AM
For children ages 6 to 12.
Full "Red" Moon Walk
Tuesday, August 24 at 7:30 PM