I'm am amateur orienteer that does a fair chunk of races. I'm reasonably decent at navigating - using attack points, bearings, contours, catching features etc.

But I cannot follow a bearing accurately and run at the same time. Yet I see lots of people running and navigating. What is the best way to do this? Tips?

2 Answers 2


The steps are rather simple for following a bearing without always looking at your compass,

  1. Pick a distant recognizable point (stump, rocks, tree) on your bearing.
  2. Travel to that point (not necessarily in a straight line).
  3. Pull out your compass and repeat.

The reason for picking out the distant point is that you can run to it and not have to look at your compass until you get there. The farther the point is, the fewer times you need to use your compass to calculate the next point.

You can also get what is known as a thumb compass that attaches to your thumb and can be used for very quick bearings.

It's also worth it to practice the skills and with experience, it gets easier.

  • Yes I have a thumb compass! Do you have any specific tips for doing this method in forest? When I try this normally the only features are trees, and when I look down at the ground (to not trip) and back up I forget which one I am aiming for.
    – Atlas
    Mar 28, 2019 at 10:16
  • @Atlas Try to find a "unique" tree or grouping of trees that are at least near to your bearing line. If it is off line then recall that you need to be x feet left or right once you get there before shooting the next marker.
    – topshot
    Mar 28, 2019 at 13:04

Another trick you can use if it's sunny and open enough for shadows:

Take a bearing, and note the angle of the shadows to your bearing, or to the sun to your bearing.

You still need to check this now and then, but it can help maintain a course when all distant landmarks look alike.

I don't generally use a compass much orienteering. I use my map more, 'thumbing' That is, I keep the map folded with the middle of my left thumbnail on my current location, and the map oriented to the ground. As I pass marked features I move my thumb.

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