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  1. 0. Compass Menu
  2. 1. Terminology
  3. 2. Bearings
  4. 3. Triangulation
  5. 4. Declination
  6. 5. Improvised

Compassing 101

Following and Finding Bearings

The vast majority of letterboxing clues that require a compass tell you to follow a compass degree, or bearing. For example, "Walk 10 steps @ 165°" or "Look for the box behind the log at 315 degrees." Quite literally, if a letterbox clue requires the use of the compass, 99% of the time, that's the kind of thing the clue will say, and all it's asking is that you take a bearing with your compass and head in that direction. Very few clues worry themselves about true north—they almost always assume magnetic north, which makes things even easier for us.

Following a Bearing

Let's use an example. Pretend we're following a clue that tells us to stand at a certain sign, and from that sign to take 25 steps at 225 degrees. The clue writer wants us to follow a bearing of 225 degrees. Pull out your compass now and follow along—you can still do this exercise even if the letterbox is imaginary!

  1. Turn the dial on your compass until the degree you want, 225 in this case, matches up with the index pointer.
  2. Hold the compass flat in your hand so the direction-of-travel arrow points directly away from you.
  3. Turn your entire body until the north end of the needle rests squarely in the orienting arrow.
  4. Congratulations! You are now facing 225 degrees. Take 25 steps forward and you are exactly where the clue told you to go.

    Try it a few more times to make sure you've got the hang of it. Take a bearing of 120 degrees. What direction is due north? Once you've mastered this skill, nearly every letterbox that uses compass degrees will now be within your reach!

Finding a Bearing

The flip side of following a bearing is finding a bearing so you can lead other people to a letterbox of your own. In essense, you'll follow the same steps as before, except in reverse. Let's use an example to practice with. You're probably in a room and there are objects all around you. Pick one of those objects, and we're gonig to figure out what the bearing is from you to that object. For purposes of this example, we'll pretend you chose a banana, but choose anything you want and replace the word 'banana' with whatever object you selected.

  1. Stand up and turn to face the banana in question.
    Face the banana
  2. Hold the compass flat in your hand with the direction-of-travel arrow pointing out towards the banana.
    Point arrow towards banana
  3. Now turn the housing until the north end of the needle rests squarely in the orienting arrow.
    Turn housing until needle is in orienting arrow
  4. Read the bearing from the index pointer. In this instance, it looks to be about 248°.
    Read the bearing

You did it! That number is the bearing for your banana! Practice finding more bearings with other objects to get comfortable with the process.

At this point, for letterboxing purposes, you'll be able to handle the vast majority of letterboxing clues. A small handful of boxes, however, use some more advanced compass techniques that we'll cover next. Don't feel pressured to learn them, however, unless you're really excited about compasses or you've stumbled onto one of the rare clues that require one of these more advanced techniques.

  1. 0. Compass Menu
  2. 1. Terminology
  3. 2. Bearings
  4. 3. Triangulation
  5. 4. Declination
  6. 5. Improvised