How to Orient a Map

Orienting the map will get it pointing in the right direction so that the map features conform to the features and directions of the real world.

Find the declination diagram in the map's margin. It looks like a little V and tells you the difference between magnetic north (where a compass needle points) and map north (the top of the map).

Note the number of degrees magnetic north is to the left or right of the map's north. (The diagram will indicate if magnetic north is the same as map north.)

Twist the compass baseplate, the rectangular plate on which the compass dial is mounted, until the direction of travel line on the plate lines up with the zero mark on the compass dial.

Line up one of the long sides of the compass adjusted in step 3 with one of the map's north-south margins. Make sure the direction of travel arrow on the compass points to north on the map.

Rotate map and compass until the magnetic needle of the compass points to the number of degrees the magnetic north is to the right or left of map north. For example, if the declination diagram shows the magnetic north as 10 degrees to the left of map north, the compass needle should point 10 degrees to the left of the zero mark.

Congratulate yourself - the map is now oriented. North on the map (the top) points to north in the real world.


  • Some maps have declination diagrams with three arrows: magnetic north, map north, and geographic north. Map north points toward the top of the map, and geographic north points towards the top of the earth. In this case, line up the compass with geographic north in step 4 instead of the map's vertical margins.
  • Local declination (the difference between map north and magnetic north) is different in every part of the world, so you must check the declination every time you use a new map.

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