A beginners guide to grid references
This quick and easy guide explains how to read a simple grid reference and explains the basics for beginners.
Get to know your compass and it will become an indispensable tool.
Whether you are out walking or cycling or simply driving somewhere new, being able to use a compass is an great skill that will always come in handy. Rather than just showing north, modern compasses have many features to assist in planning and navigation.
Without a compass, you can still use your map by relying on visible features, but a compass allows you to more accurate and navigate where there are few obvious landscape features.
There are loads of magnetic compasses available, from ones attached to penknives to huge, expensive ships compasses. Here's some of the most common:
This will tell you which way is north, but without a rotating bezel or an easy way of alignment, it will never be very accurate. They are inexpensive, but very cheap ones can be poor.
Best for: driving and road cycling where you only need the approximate direction, or as an emergency spare
This compass is designed to make it easy to take a bearing from a distant object, and are still often used by the military. They don't have all the features you may want, but can be very accurate.
Best for: people who know how to use them
This is probably the most flexible type, as it can be used for taking bearings, setting a heading and measuring distances. The clear base allows it to be laid on top of the map.
Best for: accurate navigation with a map
Where do you want to go?
Compass readings are also affected by the presence of iron and steel objects, so be sure to look out for – and stay away from – pocket knives, belt buckles, mobiles and GPS devices when using your compass.
Top tip: The red end of the compass points to north, the black end points to south.
For a more detailed explanation see Beginners guide to using a compass.
As an alternative to using a compass to orientate your map, you can use your eyesight. This method will only work if you are in an area with visible prominent features or landmarks. First, locate yourself next to a feature or landmark and place your finger on the map at the point where you are standing. Then begin to rotate the map so that other features and landmarks on the map begin to line up with the actual ones you can see. The map is now orientated with the land, although not as accurately as it would be using a compass.
This is part of National Map Reading Week, which encourages everyone to improve their map reading skills and discover new adventures.