Following Bearings (Lat/Lon)

One of the main reasons for using a compass is to help you follow a straight course to a destination. A bearing can help you stay on course even if you lose sight of your destination due to terrain, vegetation, fog, smoke or other conditions.

Following a bearing refers to setting a bearing on the compass and then following that bearing along a line to the destination. If the final destination is a long distance from starting point or if it is visually obstructed (due to vegetation, terrain, weather, or other condition) look for an intermediate destination (boulder, landmark, identifiable tree) that is on that same bearing. If there are no visible intermediate destinations, another person can serve as the intermediate destination.

One method for following bearings is described below.

How to follow a bearing:

  1. Adjust compass for declination is using the bearing with a map
  2. Take a bearing of the destination or landmark. If the destination or landmark is a long way away, choose an intermediary object that is visible and located along the line of the direction-of-travel arrow. Don’t turn the compass housing after you have taken the bearing.
  3. Walk to the inermediary or goal destination by the easiest route, it doesn’t have to be a straight route. Don’t look at your compass while you are walking, just walk towards the destination.
  4. Check to make sure you are still aligned with the original bearing
    1. Stop walking. Hold the compass but don’t turn the housing. Turn your body left or right until the north-seeking end of the needle end matches the pointed end of the orienting arrow. The direction-of-travel arrow should now be pointing towards the object.
    2. Take a back bearing to the intermediary or starting point. It should be 180 degrees from the direct bearing that was taken from that point. If it isn’t, walk to one side or the other until it is. Then turn around and sight ahead on the original bearing. A mistake of a few degrees can result in a significant maistake in distance from your final destination.
  5. Repeat the steps above until the goal is achieved.



[Continue to Orienting Maps]

**Information adapted from the National Interagency
Incident Management System Basic Land Navigation
Manual, PMS 475 dated June 2007.