Following a bearing on your hikes

Navigating with a Compass in Australia

Australia is a vast and diverse country with a wide range of landscapes, from rugged mountains to lush rainforests. When hiking in Australia, it is important to be able to navigate using a compass. This will help you to stay on track and avoid getting lost.

What is a Bearing?

A bearing is a direction expressed as an angle from north. For example, a bearing of 30 degrees would be 30 degrees east of north. Compass bearings are typically measured in degrees from 0 to 360, with 0 degrees being north, 90 degrees being east, 180 degrees being south, and 270 degrees being west.

Using a compass and magnetic bearings

Using intermediate objects and aiming for a prominent landmark, are effective techniques for navigating in the Australian wilderness.

  • Choose easily identifiable objects along the bearing line: Select landmarks like trees, rocks, or prominent features that are spaced apart to help you maintain your direction.
  • Navigate by sight: Avoid constantly checking the compass and rely on your visual references. This allows for more natural movement and obstacle avoidance.
  • Repeat the process with new reference points: As you reach each landmark, identify the next one along the bearing line, maintaining your overall direction.
  • Adjust for obstacles: When encountering obstacles, temporarily veer off course and regain your bearing using the next reference point.
  • Set the magnetic bearing: Rotate the compass bezel to align the specified magnetic bearing angle with the bearing line and arrow.
  • Align with the compass needle: Turn yourself until the north end of the compass needle aligns with the luminescent dots or lines, indicating the desired direction.
  • Consider splitting the walk into shorter sections: This can make navigation more manageable and reduce fatigue.
  • Utilise prominent landmarks for simplified navigation: Choose a large, visible object as your primary reference point, taking a bearing to guide your overall direction.
  • Follow the easiest route: While maintaining the general bearing, adjust your path to avoid obstacles and take the most convenient route.

How to follow a bearing

To follow a bearing, you will need a compass and a map. First, you will need to determine the bearing that you need to follow. This can be done by using a protractor to measure the angle between your starting point and your destination on a map. Once you have the bearing, you can set your compass to the bearing.

To set your compass, hold the compass horizontally in front of you, making sure that the compass needle is free to move. Rotate the bezel until the bearing that you want to follow is aligned with the index line. Then, turn yourself slowly until the north end of the compass needle aligns with the two luminescent dots or lines on the compass dial.

Once you are facing in the correct direction, you can start walking. As you walk, you will need to keep an eye on the compass to make sure that you are staying on track. If you start to veer off course, you will need to adjust your direction accordingly.

Here’s some tips for following a bearing:

Navigating along a magnetic bearing

To navigate along a magnetic bearing, follow these steps:

  1. Set the magnetic bearing: With the compass held horizontally, rotate the bezel until the specified magnetic bearing aligns with the direction-of-travel arrow on the compass baseplate.
  2. Orient yourself: Turn yourself slowly until the north end of the compass needle aligns with the reference points on the compass bezel (typically two luminescent dots or lines) or points directly to the “N” marking. This ensures you are facing the direction indicated by the magnetic bearing.
  3. Proceed along the bearing: Begin walking in the direction indicated by the compass needle, maintaining a consistent pace and checking your bearing periodically to ensure you remain on track.
  4. Address obstacles: While walking along a magnetic bearing, you may encounter obstacles like trees, rocks, or changes in terrain. In such cases, it’s advisable to break the journey into shorter segments, taking bearings of intermediate checkpoints along the way. This allows for more flexibility in navigating around obstacles while maintaining the overall direction.
  5. Utilise prominent landmarks: A simpler and more energy-efficient method is to take a bearing of a large, prominent landmark visible from a distance. This landmark could be a natural feature like a mountain, a prominent rock formation, or a tall tree, or it could be a man-made structure like a church spire, a building, or a communication tower.

By mastering the art of compass navigation and following bearings, you can confidently explore the Australian wilderness, reaching your destinations safely and enjoying a rewarding outdoor experience.

Find out more about using a compass.

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