Fun with a Compass

Learning to use a compass can be fun!

While it's mostly a handy tool for survival, you can also have some fun with a compass. As a bonus, these games are educational and help teach kids important wilderness survival skills.


For adults and older kids, one of the more exciting ways to have fun with a compass are to try the sport of orienteering. Originally a Scandinavian military exercise, the game is about locating a series of checkpoints scattered around a forest using only a map and a compass.

Each checkpoint has a unique stamp or hole-punch to track progress and prove completion. All players are timed but also staggered, to avoid anyone simply following the crowd. The winner is the person who reaches the goal the quickest with all checkpoints completed. Hardcore players participate in night courses using only a headlight for extra challenge. For more information about this strenuous but rewarding sport, contact a club near you.

Kids' Fun with a Compass

Sending young kids out into the woods to fend for themselves may not be wise, especially if you're on camping vacation or similar and just need something to keep boredom at bay. Here are some other games you can play with the kids when the iPod batteries run out and mutiny is near.

Treasure Hunt

This game is like Orienteering Light, except without a map and much shorter course. Start by giving your kid a compass and a note with directions to the first checkpoint, for example, 200 feet northeast. The checkpoint in this case could be another note pinned to a tree, held down by a rock, giving another clue, again using the compass for navigation. The last checkpoint is the goal, which can have a candy bar or some other treat.

The benefit of this game is that you can adjust the difficulty for differently aged kids by the distance traveled, number of checkpoints, whether or not you provide eye-catching markers like colored stripes tied to the tree in question and so forth. It requires some setup time, but if you're on vacation and could use a few minutes of peace and quiet, few things are as effective for getting the raging horde off your back as a cleverly hidden treat in the forest. Just remember to talk to your kids about how to get back if they get lost. Moreover, don't put chocolate bars in the sun in the summer; stick to the shade or choose a different type of treat.

Triangulating Treasure

First, seek out a place where you can clearly see three prominent landmarks. Make a note of the location of each as they appear in the spot you stand, i.e. "The cell phone tower at 70 degrees, the big waterfall at 150 degrees and the Ranger station at 230 degrees". Either hide a treat there, or use a series of locations where each points to the next until they find the prize (using different or the same landmarks, changing degrees as necessary).

Nighttime Navigation

If your compass has glow-in-the-dark markers, you can do a bit of precision navigation with a side order of memory training to boot. To play the game, locate a flat area like a mole-free grass field, tennis court or similar (nothing to stumble on in the dark). Mark a starting point, preferably a reflective or brightly colored flat item that is easily spotted when you turn on a flashlight yet not visible in the dark.

Each player starts right on that spot and verbal instructions are given. For example: "Eight paces N, two paces E, four paces S, two paces W, four paces S". The flashlight is then turned off and the player has to follow the instructions. In the end, the player drops a penny right where they're standing. They should be right back where they started -- turn on the flashlight and measure how far from the starting marker the penny ended up.

Adjust difficulty depending on age and skill; a kid doing a five-pace exercise can be a formidable opponent for an adult doing 20 paces, keeping it fun and challenging for everyone. This exercise is particularly good in that it makes the brain memorize and visualize the course, as it would appear on a map. When it comes to having fun with a compass, it's all good!

Fun Compass Games

These are by no means the only games you can play that involves a compass. For more ideas, talk to your local scout leader and chances are you'll get ten new games as easy and fun as these!

Fun with a Compass