How to Orient a Map

How to Orient a Map

How to Orient a Map


Knowing how to orient a map is important to all hikers and backpackers. It can be pretty easy to get yourself lost in the woods but, with the right skills, you can decrease the likelihood of getting yourself lost. Orienting a map is one of the simpler steps you can take to prevent yourself from getting lost. Hikers who practice this skill regularly will stay safer and realize that they appreciate the places that they’re exploring even more than they are.

To orient your map, grab your compass and follow these steps:

Step One – Lay out the map horizontally. Making sure the map is horizontal will make it easier to read and orient to your surroundings.

Step Two – Find north on the map. Most maps are printed with north at the top. Remember to differentiate between north on the map and magnetic north, the direction the compass points. This will be important as you continue following your map on the hike.

Step Three – Find magnetic north. Since magnetic north is rarely marked on the map, making sure to note the number of degrees it differs from north on the map.

Step Four – Shift the baseplate of the compass until the travel line direction lines up to the zero mark on the dial of the compass.

Step Five – Align one of the long sides of the compass with the map’s margins of north and south. Be sure that the travel arrow points to the north of the map.

Step Six – Rotate the compass along with the map. You need to do this until the magnetic needle points to the number of degrees the magnetic north is to either the left or right of the north on the map. For example, if magnetic north was 13 degrees to the right of north on the map then the needle of the compass should point degrees 13 from the zero mark, to the right.

Follow these directions and you’ll be able to follow your map much more accurately and see map features matching up with the features you’ll see on the trail.

Ian Campbell Ian Campbell is the founder of Love the Backcountry and a long time lover of adventure travel. When not writing about the backcountry, he can typically be found hiking, backpacking and camping in the mountains and looking to lay his head beneath as many trees as he can find.