Silva Compass Instructions

Updated April 17, 2017

The sport of orienteering, navigating with a map and compass, began in Sweden in the 1930s. The three Kjellstrom brothers and instrument maker Gunnar Tillander developed an accurate, liquid-damped compass combined with a protractor to simplify taking a bearing. The company they formed, named Silva (meaning "forest" in Swedish), entered the United States in 1946. Before heading into the woods, learn how to navigate with your Silva compass.

Lay out your route on the topographical map as a series of straight lines between identifiable landmarks. For example, you may plan a route from a trail head to a hilltop, then to a picnic area, and from there back to the trail head. Draw this route with a straight edge and pencil.

Place your Silva compass on the map with the edge (the inch scale or the millimetre scale) on the line of the first leg of your trip, and the hinged cover or top of the compass pointing in the direction of travel. Hold the compass in this position and rotate the dial of the compass so that the meridian lines (the parallel lines on the face of the dial) line up with the North-South meridian lines of the map and the letter "N" on the arrow is pointing north on the map. The compass is now set to guide you on the first leg.

Start your trip from the first landmark (in this example, the trail head). Without changing the setting of the dial, hold the compass flat in your hand and turn until the orienting arrow lines up with the magnetic needle, with the red end of the arrow pointing in the same direction as the red end of the magnetic needle. The sighting line of the compass and the sight (the small notch at the top of the hinged cover) are now pointing in the direction of travel. Proceed in this direction, pausing occasionally to check your direction.

Repeat Step 2 when you reach the first landmark by placing the compass on the map, lined up with the second leg of your trip, and rotate the dial to the new setting. Continue this process until you complete your journey.


You can also set your compass by sighting a distant landmark and rotating the dial to line up the orienteering arrow with the magnetic arrow. The compass will guide you in that direction even if the terrain causes you to lose sight of the landmark.


Never go into the wilderness without appropriate clothing, food, water and first aid gear.

Things You'll Need

  • Silva orienteering compass
  • Topographical map
  • Ruler or straight edge
  • Pencil
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About the Author

Mike Frees is an I.T. professional who was first published in the Apollo Computer corporate journal in the 1980s. He has since seen print in fiction magazines, local newspapers and nonprofit newsletters, and has been writing online articles for the past year. He has a bachelor's degree from San Jose State University and a master's degree from the College of Notre Dame.