Quick Tip: Easy declination on a compass

Don’t have a compass that where declination can be adjusted? Here’s a quick and dirty way to pre-set it!

For proper navigation in the backcountry, a compass is needed.

Note: If these terms I’m about to write sound odd, review this old, but excellent, site first. 🙂

Does not have to be anything fancy. Any base plate compass will work for the general navigation most backpackers will do.

If you would rather not futz with declination, a Suunto M-3 or similar is great. If you backpack in areas spread over a wide geographic area, this type of compass works really well and is versatile. At ~$35, not really that expensive.


Suunto M-2 adjusted for 15 deg in Utah. Shamelessly stolen via Google Image Search!

But what if you have a compass that does not have the ability to be pre-set for declination? Perhaps it is a compass you were given, or you’d rather adhere more to the KISS principle or perhaps you are simply more frugal.

Have no fear, there is a dirt bagger solution!

  • Take a permanent marker or very thin piece of duct tape
  • Mark declination on the compass
  • Use as appropriate

Pre-Colorado beater compass

On my beater compass, I have it set for my north-central Colorado hiking at 10 deg. Actual declination where I normally play is ~9.x degrees  The map above is for the Flat Tops and declination is exactly 10.0 degrees.  In other words, 10.0 degrees is good enough for govt work! 😉

Obviously this method works best if you are mainly sticking to one area (or enjoy peeling off duct tape). Otherwise you are better off using  a compass where the declination can be adjusted or you’ve committed to memory (for Western hiking)  the following phrase: First Man Adam 🙂

Happy Trails…and navigation!


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Jarrett Morgan
9 years ago

Thanks for the tip. You can fix a lot of bad situations with some duct tape and a permanent marker. It’s too easy to hike trails and get rusty with your compass skills. So thanks for the orienteering site share to help me knock that rust loose.