Did you know that a map is nearly worthless without a compass? Did you know a compass is nearly just as worthless without a map? Now here is a question for you: How often do you have one and not the other? Happens all the time. Fear not! With some basic information, you can bring both, use both, and maybe just maybe be slightly less lost. 

Upper Colorado River Rafting Map

Maps contain a lot of information! 

  • Title: Where are you? What area of the world are you in? 
  • Compass Rose: Which way is north on the map?
  • Legend: Tells you what all the wingdings mean.
  • Contour lines: The terrain (or topography) of the area. Where are the hills? (often it will say the elevation gain in between the lines).
  • Scale: The length of a mile on that particular map. 
  • Declination: The angular difference in degrees from true north to magnetic north.Upper Colorado River Rafting Map


In case you didn’t know, compasses have a tiny magnet that tells you where north is based on the magnetic poles of the earth. There are a few working parts of a compass:

  • Magnetic needle: Focus on the red part!
  • The direction of Travel Arrow: The arrow on the base plate of the compass. 
  • Base plate: The main part of the compass. Often has a ruler to help measure distance with the scale. 
  • Dial: Sets a bearing. Look for the shed-shaped arrow and match it up with the red needle that moves around (put red in the shed).

black and white compass graphic

Orienteering Basics: Find north; take into account the declination (how far off from true north is magnetic north). Line up your map’s outside edge with the edge of the compass set to north and point accordingly. Take the compass and line up where you are on the map to the bottom of the base plate. Line the compass up with where you are going and line the “shed” up. Pick up your compass and hold it flat in front of you. Put “red” in the “shed”! Find a landmark not too far off in line with your direction of travel arrow. Start walking! Once you hit the landmark check your bearings again and adjust as necessary.

Or….you could just hire one of our guides and have them teach you while backpacking…… : )

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