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How To: Make Your Own Compass

Having access to a compass could be the difference between you being able to get yourself out of the wilderness and into safety, and continuing to be stranded. Many cell phones have compasses built-in, and you obviously have your navigation tools. But relying on a cell phone is not a good idea. Depending on your location you may not have service or you may run out of battery life.

Hopefully, you do have a compass on you It really should be part of your survival kit or your camping backpack. If it’s not though, it’s pretty simple to create one in the wilderness.

Snappy Goat

The main part you will need is the compass needle. Obviously, using a real needle is optimum. If you don’t have one you could use a razor blaze, a paperclip, a safety pin, or even a nail.

Magnetizing Your Needle

When the metal item you choose becomes magnetized and can move freely the Earth’s magnetic field pulls the needle into a north-south orientation.


To magnetize your needle (or whatever item you have chosen) you can do one of three things. You can tap it, rub it, or use a magnet.

The tapping method is when you tap the metal object you have chosen against anything steel or iron.  Tapping must be done for several minutes, at least 50 times, in order to magnetize your object.

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Another method is to rub it. Rubbing the object against your hair, animal fur, or even silk, is a great way to magnetize it. Again, do this at least 50 times to ensure it has been magnetically charged.

By far the easiest way to magnetize a needle is to use a magnet. Rub the magnet against the object you are using 20 to 30 times. You will want to be sure you are only going in one direction and not back and forth.

Suspending Your Needle

The easiest way to suspend your needle is to let it float in the water. Laying it on a leaf can be a perfect solution to this.

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You could also rig up some sort of apparatus that would be less exposed to the elements. If you have a glass jar or bottle you could connect a piece of string or thread and let the needle hang freely.

Once you’ve figured out, using geographical clues (sun, stars, moon, etc.) which direction is north you will need to mark your needle with a pen, marker, or a scratch mark of some sort so you know when it is pointing north.


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