Because your compass is useless without the skills. 

(This article is brought to you by our friends at Brunton who make the gold standard in professional compasses, and definitely know how to use them.) 


There are many backcountry essentials that can help keep us safe in the wilderness. You might bring along a personal locator beacon in case of an emergency, or pack a signaling mirror to help Search and Rescue find you if you’re lost. And of course, a compass is a fundamental device for helping you find your way — so fundamental in fact, that many people underestimate the knowledge that is required to use one.

Don’t be fooled by the simplicity of a compass. It won’t do you any good without knowledge and experience. And that experience is best gained in real life with instructors who are skilled in explaining the necessary knowledge.

So instead of telling you how to use a compass, we’re going to leave it to the professionals.

These Orienteering Classes are Backcountry Essentials

An orienteering class will arm you with the knowledge and the confidence to tackle the backcountry. Here are a few options for classes you can take before your next backcountry excursion.

1. REI’s Map and Compass Navigation Basics

If you’re an outdoor enthusiast, you’re probably familiar with REI’s class offerings. From inspiring speakers to mountain bike tune-up tutorials, REI always has regular offerings to better your outdoor experiences. Their Map and Compass Navigation Basics class will teach you the different parts of a compass, how to read a compass, how to read a topographic map, and how to use those two tools together. The class is offered in-stores across the country, and backcountry essentials like maps and compasses are provided for all students. 

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2. L.L. Bean’s Introduction to Map and Compass Skills Course

L.L. Bean has been an east coast staple since 1912–providing quality, durable gear for cold seasons. Like REI, this company also offers classes, however, they keep it strictly to the east coast. L.L. Bean focuses on taking students into the field to learn how to use a compass and topographic map efficiently. If you’re on the east coast, grab your hiking boots and get registered.

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3. Backpacker Magazine’s Backcountry Navigation Online Course

We like the idea of an in-person class, but the internet can also be an effective place to learn. Backpacker Magazine makes it convenient for anyone to learn orienteering, anywhere, with their online navigation course. They offer a seven part series that covers the basics of maps, compasses, and trip planning. Just don’t wait until you’re on the trail to try and access the class from your phone.

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4. Brunton’s Instructor Kit

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Once you’re an expert on orienteering, share the knowledge!

Brunton offers an instructor kit that enables you to impart orienteering skills on your students. Maybe you lead a Boy or Girl Scout troop, or teach a geology class. Just about anyone who spends time outdoors can benefit from orienteering skills. Brunton’s instructor kit comes with both an instructor manual and a student workbook — use them to help the next generation of backpackers be safe and knowledgeable about finding their way.

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Kristen Byrne

Kristen Byrne

Kristen is a journalist turned digital account manager at The Dyrt. She has worked for various TV stations and newspapers, and now focuses on content creation for tech-loving outdoor enthusiasts. Chances are good she's outside, hiking, climbing, skiing, or exploring. Just know that you can count on her to bring canned wine to the campfire.