Although watches once were used for nothing more than keeping track of the time, they’ve quickly changed into vast wrist-mounted tools that are capable of a multitude of things. Take a quick look at the smartwatch market, and this will become even more evident. Compasses are one of the most common additions to a watch, and while they’re nice to have, do you actually know how to use a compass on a watch?
Truthfully, figuring out how to use the compass on your watch isn’t much different than the way you use a traditional compass. Some watches with a compass built-in feature the compass on the bezel surrounding the watch, or some will include an entirely separate component that houses the compass.
No matter which of these styles of watches you have, learning how to use the compass on it to figure out which direction you’re facing or need to go is incredibly simple once you get the hang of things.
Why should you bother learning this?
Pulling out your smartphone to figure out where you are and where you need to go might be incredibly useful right now, but it won’t do you any good once the grid goes down. Let’s say that tomorrow nukes get fired off and remove all traditional forms of communication as we know it.
At that point in time, pulling out your phone and opening Google Maps won’t do you any good at all. Having gadgets that do all of these things for us is great now, but they’re going to leave us incapable of basic survival skills once we can no longer as mother Google or Apple to do every little thing for us.
Compasses are some of the oldest tools around, and they’ve been around for so long because they don't need anything more than the sun and Earth’s gravitational force to work — two things that you can always rely on no matter what.
It might take some time to get used to reading a regular compass (especially on a watch) if you’ve never done so before, but as you can hopefully understand, it’s an important skill that we’re going to explain as best we can right now.
How to use a compass on a watch that’s built into the bezel
First off, let’s assume that you have a watch where the bezel features a compass on it. In order to determine whether or not you have a watch like this, simply look at it. The bezel is the circle around the display of your watch. While you can technically use any watch bezel to tell time, having a bezel with compass markings built-in will make this whole process much easier.
Now that you’ve got your watch, figure out which hemisphere you’re in. You’ve got two choices (Northern and Southern), and we’re just going to assume that you know which of these you’re in.
From here, rotate the bezel of your watch so that the marker for South is right at halfway between the hour hand and the 12-o-clock indicator. You’ll want to subtract an hour from this if you’re currently in daylight savings, so adjust accordingly if need be.
From there, point your hour hand towards the sun. You can try to do this from indoors, but things will be a whole lot easier if you make your way outside to get as accurate of a placement as possible.
With the hour hand now pointed at the sun, look at the orientation of your bezel to figure out which way North, South, East, and West are. Just like that, you’re done!
If you’re going to be wandering around for quite some time, it’s a good idea to rest the placement of your hour hand and everything about every hour or so just to make sure your directions are as accurate as possible. This can be tricky if it’s cloudy outside, but even with just a tad bit of sunlight, this is a surpassingly accurate method that works great.
Using a more traditional compass on your watch
If the compass on your watch is a more traditional one with a pointer that always faces north, using it is quite a bit simpler than what we just talked about (not that that’s very difficult to begin with).
The pointer on your compass will always point North, and while it might be a little difficult to see due to the smaller and more compact size when compared to a traditional compass, you should get the hang of things after a little bit of testing and use with it.
Having a fully built-in compass is a lot less common than compass markers that are built into the bezel of a watch, but we figured it would be worth talking about this just in case you do happen to own one.
Which one’s better?
When talking about watches on compasses, we often get asked which implementation is better — having a compass bezel or having a separate compass component somewhere on the watch.
A lot of this boils down to personal preference, but at the end of the day, we’ve gotta say that we like having a watch bezel a bit more. Built-in compasses on watches can often be difficult to see since they need to be reduced in size quite a bit, but with a compass on the bezel, you have a lot of room to see just where you’re heading.
That may not seem like a particularly big deal right now, but if you need to haul butt and get somewhere quickly, being able to glance down at your watch and tell right away which direction you’re heading can be the difference between life and death.
Congratulations! If you’ve made it to this point in the article, you now know how to use a compass on a watch! Like we said earlier, the process itself isn’t too difficult. Getting started with things does require a bit of patience and trial, but after you figure out how everything works, determining your direction on your watch will be a piece of cake.