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Compass Terminologies

If you're considering buying a compass, you may find it an overwhelming endeavor. With so many compasses on the market, it can be difficult to get started. Do you need a traditional needle compass like the Brunton Classic Gentleman's Compasss or a sophisticated professional compass like the Brunton Pocket Transit line? It can get confusing quickly, as there are likely a lot of words and terms you've never heard of before. Even the most experienced hiker might need a quick refresher. That's why we've compiled this glossary of compass terminology.

  • Altimeter

    An instrument that measures elevation by using barometric (air) pressure.
  • Azimuth

    Same as bearing. Refers to the degree of bearing from your current position to a landmark or destination. Reversing the bearing would be known as a back azimuth or back bearing.
  • Baseplate

    The see-through plate of an orienting compass onto which the compass housing is mounted.
  • Bearing

    The direction of travel from your current position to a landmark or destination, expressed in degrees from 1 to 360. Also called an Azimuth.
  • Bench mark

    A permanent object that is either natural or man-made with a known elevation that can be used as a reference point when navigating.
  • Bench mark

    A permanent object that is either natural or man-made with a known elevation that can be used as a reference point when navigating.
  • Cardinal points

    The four main points of direction on a compass--North/360 degrees; East/90 degrees; South/180 degrees; and West/270 degrees.
  • Declination

    The difference in degrees between magnetic north (the direction the magnetic needle on a compass points) and true or geographic north (the direction maps are printed towards).
  • Magnetic north

    The geographical region towards which all magnetic needles point. This point is approximately 1,300 miles south of true north. Orienteering Using a map and compass in the field to determine your route of travel.
  • Prismatic compass

    A compass with a mirror designed to allow a user to see both distant objects being sighted and the compass face at the same time.
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