It’s a great question that was raised by a comment from Nick (not me, another one!) on this post from ages ago about choosing a compass :
To learn navigation people always worry about bearings first. This is usually the wrong way round. The most important thing is a compass that reliably points North (Silva and Suunto are well respected) and the ability to ‘set’ a map correctly and use the features.
So when I advise people on compasses I normally say just get one that points north and has no mirrors or other confusing features.
And Nick’s spot on.
Taking bearings can be essential to double check your position, to travel in a featureless landscape or to travel towards a specific feature.
However, the meat and potatoes of navigation with the compass is to ensure you are oriented in the landscape – you know which way is North and which is South and you use it to set the map accordingly.
If I’m travelling and using the map often to check my position and/or the route I love these little watch strap compasses. They’re not much use for anything other than telling where the cardinal points are but they’re ideal for keeping a check on your orientation with little fuss.