Module M09 - Participatory Scale Mapping and Surveying

Unit M09U04 - Compass Survey


This Unit is all about working with a map and a compass. It covers the basics of how to use a compass, how to use a compass with a base map and how to design and conduct a compass traverse.

A compass traverse may be used to map a small area accurately or to conduct an open-ended traverse. A traverse is often used in mapping for resource inventories. A compass traverse is time-consuming, so it is a method used for making scale maps of relatively small areas.

It is a relatively simple step-by-step process to measure bearings and distances on the ground and then draw them to scale. This process therefore offers a hands-on way to clearly see and work with the basic elements of scale maps – the relationship between scale, distance and direction.

Unit objectives / expected outcomes

After the completion of the Unit the trainee will be able to:

  • describe the principles of a compass;
  • use a compass with a map;
  • use a compass in a survey or traverse of different patterns by measuring direction, distance, slope, etc.;
  • conduct a compass traverse;
  • plot and draw a traverse to make a basic map;
  • give an overview of compass survey tools.

Content outline, main topics covered and suggested sequencing

This Unit focuses on the topics listed below.

  1. How to work with a compass and a map (PPT No. 1: Using a Compass) (20 min)
  2. Using a compass to take bearings (Exercise No. 1: Using a Compass) (40 min)
  3. Using a compass with a map (Exercise No. 2: Finding Bearings on a Map) (60 min)
  4. Conducting a compass traverse (PPT No. 2: Compass Survey) (20 min)
  5. Estimating distance by pacing (Exercise No. 3: Pacing Distance) (40 min) (optional)
  6. Measuring slope angle and converting slope distance to horizontal distance (Exercise No. 4: Measuring Slope and Making Slope Conversions)(60 min)
  7. Build your own clinometer (Exercise No. 5: Make Your Own Clinometer)(60 min) (optional)
  8. Compass traverse (Exercise No. 6: Compass Traverse) (60 min)
  9. Processing compass survey data (PPT No. 2: Compass Survey, Part 2) (20 min)
  10. Plotting the compass traverse (Exercise No. 7: Plotting the Compass Traverse) (60 min)

Components of the Unit


Handouts for Trainee (to be distributed in printed format):



Working with compass and map – 2 hours

Compass survey – 3 ½ – 5 hours

Total for both methods – 7 hours

Additional trainer resources

  • Hawkins, Peter. 2003. Map and Compass: The art of navigation. Milnthorpe: Cicerone
  • Hodgson, Michael. 2000. Compass and Map Navigator: The complete guide to staying found. Conneticut, USA. Globe Pequot Press.
  • Jacobson, Cliff 1997. Basic Essentials of Map and Compass. Merrillville, Indiana, USA. ICS Books.
  • Pugh, John 1975. Surveying for field scientists. USA. Taylor & Francis.
  • Finding Your Way with Map and Compass. Fact Sheet. Source: US Geographic Service
  • Reading Topographic Maps. Source:
  • Activities: Map and Compass. Source: Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

Equipment needed

Computer and beamer, compass (one compass for each four trainees if possible), topographic map or geo-referenced base map (if available), distance measuring tool (i.e. survey chain or laser finder), field note books (one per trainee), field pencil, eraser and colour pencils for each trainee, table surface, scientific calculator or cosine table, slope measuring device, graph paper, protractor, straight edge ruler, marker pen, cardboard, scissors or knife, string and weight (number depending on number of groups of trainees)

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