How to Read a Digital Compass

by Laura Dixon

Digital compasses are handy electronic devices that use sensors to determine the magnetic field, then display those measurements numerically. Digital compasses can now be found on watches and other small, hand-held devices.

Point the compass in one direction, holding it at waist level. You should also be careful not to tilt the device too much, as tilting can result in a less accurate reading.

Twist the rim of the watch or compass so that North is right above where the 12 would be on a watch. Directions are represented on many digital compasses by N for North, S for South, E for East and W for West.

Wait for the dial to swing to one side or another in relation to North, or for the indicator light to switch on next to one of these directions (depending on the type of digital compass you have). Then wait for the digital reading of your bearing to appear on the compass screen.

Read the compass measurement that appears on the compass screen, displayed in numeric digits from 1 to 360°. The number you see represents where you are in relation to the direction indicated. For example, if the compass indicates the directions N and W, and the number on the screen is 320, this means you are facing 320° North-West.

Tip

  • Watches with markings around the perimeter are generally easier to read, as they indicate the direction of North instantly. If possible, set your digital compass on a flat surface such as a table to get the most accurate reading. If you are using a digital compass watch, make sure to have the watch calibrated each time you change the batteries. Calibration keeps the compass bearings from being too affected by any magnetism in the watch.

Warning

  • Do not overuse your digital compass. Switch it off when you are done using the device to conserve the battery, especially while in the wilderness.