How to Use a Silva Compass

Updated July 19, 2017

Even with the advent of GPS technology, many outdoor enthusiasts still carry a map and compass in addition to a GPS. However, carrying a map and compass is useless without the knowledge and proficiency to use them when needed. Accuracy, reliability, and ease of use have made the Silva protractor compass among the most popular and recognisable compasses available. While learning to use the Silva compass requires relatively little time, repeated practice is necessary to develop the skill to find your way through the wilderness.

Find your location and your destination on the map.

Align the edge of the baseplate along the direction of travel. The "Direction of Travel" arrow (located on the baseplate) should point toward your destination and away from your starting point.

Rotate the dial of the compass so the orienting lines (black, parallel lines located in the capsule) are aligned with the grid lines on the map. Ensure the orienting arrow is pointed to map north.

Locate the declination diagram on the map. The declination diagram details the deviation between grid north, magnetic north and true north. It is measured in degrees east or west. Note the deviation between grid north and magnetic north. This will be used in Step 6.

Remove the compass from the map. While holding the compass level, rotate your body until the north end of the magnetic needle aligns with the orienting error in the capsule.

Adjust for magnetic declination by rotating your body until the arrow aligns with the correct number of degrees east or west on the declination correction scale (located in the compass capsule near the orienting arrow).

Find a landmark directly in front of you and walk to it. At the landmark realign the compass, sight another landmark and walk to it. Repeat until you reach your destination.


Some Silva compasses have a declination adjuster that allows the compass to be set on the compass. For these compasses, omit Step 6.


Keep the compass away from metal objects and magnets.

Things You'll Need

  • Silva compass
  • Map
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About the Author

David Chandler has been a freelance writer since 2006 whose work has appeared in various print and online publications. A former reconnaissance Marine, he is an active hiker, diver, kayaker, sailor and angler. He has traveled extensively and holds a bachelor's degree from the University of South Florida where he was educated in international studies and microbiology.