Reading the map

Learn the basics

Knowing the terrain is key when planning your adventure – or when you are right in it. This is the basics.

Color coding

Topographic maps are color coded: blue for water; white for open terrain, green for forest; black for roads, paths, buildings and other man-made objects.

Contour lines

Contour lines represent the topography or vertical shape of the landscape, and will help you identify features like mountains, valleys and ridges; the closer the lines, the steeper the slope.

Local variations

North is always up – on all maps! However, other symbols and features may differ depending on where you are.

Use the map and scales to measure distance

A map is a scaled down model of reality, hence it is important to understand how it represents distance. Measure the distance with the base plate of your compass and the scale of the map.

Does your compass lack the corresponding scale? Use the regular metric ruler and this simple rule: drop the last three digits from the scale and this is the number of metres on the ground represented by 1mm on the map; e.g, on a 1:50.000 map this means that 1mm represents 50 metres.

Orient the map to north

The easiest way to use a map and compass together is to orient the map towards North. Simply align the map meridians with the compass needle so that “up” on the map is pointing North. Now everything on the map is in the same direction as on the ground. When travelling along your route, remember to keep the map oriented at all times. By doing this it will be very easy to follow your route since turning right on the map also means turning right on the ground! Properly orienting the map is quick, easy and the best way to avoid unnecessary mistakes during your trip!

Use significant terrain objects to navigate safely

Use significant terrain objects to mark your route, e.g. rivers and lakes, hills, fields, paths, roads and power lines. By holding onto this visual “handrail” you will travel faster and more safely, reducing the number of possible route-finding errors.

There are two north poles

Did you know there are actually two North Poles? One of them is the Geographic North Pole; the point of the axis around which the earth spins. The other one is the Magnetic north pole; where all compass needles point.

.…and one of them is moving

The magnetic north pole – along with the magnetic south pole – are the ends of the magnetic field which goes around the earth. There are many different sources of magnetic activity around and on the planet, and these fields are created by magnetic elements in the earth’s fluid outer core. This molten rock does not align perfectly with the axis around which the earth spins. All those influencing factors combined create the north and south attractions at each spot on the globe. The actual strength and direction of north is somewhat varying everywhere, but it is always towards the top of the globe.

Magnetic declination

The difference between the north geographic pole and the north magnetic pole is called magnetic declination, or just declination. This is an important factor to take into consideration when using a map and a compass.

Constantly changing

Depending on where you are on earth, the angle of declination will be different. From some locations, the geographic and magnetic poles are aligned and declination is minimal, but from other spots, the angle between the two poles is fairly large. In areas with significant declination, adjustments must be made to walk a correct bearing. Information concerning magnetic declination is found on the topographic map. The declination itself changes just a little, each year. This means using an old map could point in a direction several degrees wrong, and it is crucial to find accurate information for your location.

Declination adjustment

On many of our compasses, you can compensate for magnetic declination by using the fixed declination correction scale inside the capsule.

Some of our compasses are equipped with an adjustment screw for compensating the declination more permanently. A small screwdriver can be found inside the safety release of the included lanyard.

How to Navigate

Navigating with a map and a compass is as easy as 1-2-3. But there are a few things to learn before heading out.

How compasses work

Besides learning how to navigate the easy Silva 1-2-3 way it is also useful to know the basics of compasses.

Find your compass

From beginner to expert, find the compass best suited for your needs.