Written by 4:25 pm Wilderness Navigation Masters

18) How to shoot and follow a bearing with a magnetic compass

Hello and welcome to this lesson of the online course, Wilderness Navigation Masters.

What you will learn:

  • What are the three types of bearings?
  • How to shoot and follow a bearing


Direct bearing:

This is the easiest one to follow because here, you see your destination and you walk to it.

You may ask me, why should I shoot and follow a direct bearing if I already see my destination with my eyes.

We do this to be sure of where we will arrive because sometimes landmarks are similar to each other and we don’t want to arrive at another place, especially when we are walking.

This is an illustration to explain to you: 

We are at this place represented by the red X sign.

We know from the map that our campground is at a bearing of 200°.

All you have to do to make sure that this campground then its the one you want to go to is to shoot a bearing of 200° with your compass and if you see a campground at this line, then it’s the one on your map.


Intermediate bearing:

This type of bearing is needed when you don’t see what you want to arrive at from your current position.

Doing that, means you have to shoot for something between you and your destination. Sometimes you need to do that one time, sometimes two times or more.

This is an illustration that explains that.

You are at the place represented by the red X sign, and you want to head to this campground (red crosses sign).

Because there are threes between you and your destination, you may not see the campground from your position.

For that, all you have to do is to shoot the bearing that you get from your map.

After that, you aim for a landmark like a three that are faraway from you at the same exact line and you arrive at it, then you repeat the same thing till you arrive at your destination.


Distant bearing:

Distant bearing is a little bit similar to an intermediate bearing, the only difference is that the landmark that we aim and walk to, is faraway from our checkpoint, but still in the exact same line.

After we aim at this faraway landmark, we walk toward it till we arrive at our checkpoint that we should found first.

Because we will get to our destination before the landmark that we aimed at, it’s better for our destination to be big and easy to see to not miss it.

Let’s see this illustration to understand that.

We are at the point represented by the red X sign and want to arrive at the campground.

But, because there are too many trees, we can’t see the campground from our position, but we see the big mountain behind it.

After we make sure that the mountain area at the same line as our campground, we start walking toward the mountain looking for the campground.

Like I’ve said before if our checkpoint is something small because it’s easy for us to deviate from our itinerary, we can walk further away from our checkpoint without knowing it.

For that, we have to use a big landmark. Because even we deviate a little bit from our itinerary we still get to it.

What I recommend using as a checkpoint is a linear landmark at a vertical angle, like this river. Because when doing that, you have too many chances of not missing it.

If what you can found as a checkpoint is just a small landmark, there is a solution for that which is measuring the walking time. For example, if your checkpoint is at 1600 feet, you should arrive and look at your checkpoint when you walk for around 30 minutes.

Now that you know the three types of bearings, let’s see how to shoot a bearing in the field, then we go for the first exercise.


How to shoot a bearing in the field (skip to 4:18):

Video transcription
  • If we want to arrive at a campground that we don’t see from our position, but from the map, we know that it’s at a bearing of 250 degrees.
  • All that we have to do, is to turn the liquid capsule or the housing, till we have 250 degrees at the intersection with the direction of travel arrow.
  • Now, hold your compass at your west, because it’s the easiest way to keep it level.
  • Now turn yourself with your compass till the red magnetic needle are in the orienting arrow or the red area in the shed.

Now let’s see the first exercise.

Exercise #1

Let’s say that we are at point A and we want to hike to point B, and from point B to point C then we arrive at our final destination which is point D, following the bearings 80°, 125° then 240°.

What are the landmarks that we can use as a direct bearing, intermediate, or far-away bearing to arrive at each checkpoint?

By the way, we will use this map excerpt as if there is no green woodland area in it.


From point A to point B, because it’s flat terrain, we can shoot a direct bearing and follow it.

From point B to point C. Because this checkpoint is in a valley that we can’t see from point B, we can use this intermittent lake as an intermediate bearing, and after we reach it, we continue following our bearing till we arrive at checkpoint C.

And from that, to arrive at point D, if we can see this hill here, we can use it as a far-away landmark to arrive at our final destination.

Exercise #2

In the second exercise, I want you to go outdoor and practice shooting:

  • A bearing of 40 degrees
  • A bearing of 100 degrees
  • A bearing of 270 degrees.

In each one, try to see what landmarks can you use in this bearing.


That’s all for this lesson, don’t forget, if you have a question, leave it in the comments section below, because you can get an answer from me or one of the other students.

Thank you and see you in the next lesson.

Updated on June 7, 2021 by Ben

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