Even in the twenty-first century, the compass is still considered the most reliable method of navigation. Unlike GPSs and cell phones, a compass is powered by the earth’s magnetic fields and are not subject to frailties that plague electronic devices. Reading these devices isn’t a natural skill though. To help you jump start your training, this article discusses five essential tips to using a compass accurately.
How to Use a Compass the Proper Way
Contrary to popular belief, it is not that hard to use a compass while hiking. First of all, you need to learn the directions. You should always be able to tell exactly where South, North, West, and East are. Still, knowing where North is at all time is quite essential.
There are different kinds of compasses out there: map-attached compasses, thumb-attached tools, and others. Most hikers think that thumb-compasses are better for those who want to move around quickly.
Secondly, another very important aspect is knowing how to read a compass. More specifically, there are two arrows or needles on every orientation tool. One is red while the other is always black. The red needle points towards the magnetic north pole. But what happens if you don’t want to go north?
Well, it is simple! You just have to take advantage of the compass’ feature, called compass housing. On your tool’s edge, you will see a scale that ranges between 0 and 360 or, sometimes, even to 400. Those numbers are the bearing degrees.
Let’s say you may want to go southeast. In this case, you should see your tool’s housing southeast point. The next step is to turn the compass until the direction of the travel arrow meets the southeast housing. Make sure to always hold the compass in a flat position so that the needle can easily turn. Also, you should be careful when turning around with the compass in your hand.
It is crucial that the red needle of the compass always points north. Otherwise, you might be heading in the opposite direction. Below, we have gathered a list of the most useful tips about how to choose and use a compass.
5 Tips about Compasses that All Hiker Should Know
Tip 1: Choose the Right Device
Not all models are created equal. Even with superior survival training, an inaccurate compass can get you lost in no time. The little copycats dangling from keychains can’t compare to an updated, quality model from your local outdoor equipment retailer. When selecting a compass, consider the durability, reliability, and features over any aesthetic appeal.
Many compasses offer durable features, such as water, impact, and sand resistance. However, selecting a model from a quality brand is the best guarantee of durability and accuracy. The most popular brands are Silva, Suunto, Brunton, and Cammenga.
Look for essential features, such as a rotating bezel, adjustable declination and scale, and a base plate with an index line and rulers. Although not necessary, you may want to invest in a compass with luminescent indicators for reading in dim lighting, a sighting mirror, and magnifying lens. If you’re planning on traveling worldwide, consider a global needle.
Tip 2: Become Familiar with the Terms
Using compass features is only possible once you become familiar with its basic anatomy. Compasses have changed significantly over the last century. Modern models are housed on a base plate. The base plate contains the directional arrow, scales necessary for map reading, and the magnifier. In addition, you can use the base plate as a straight edge to orient yourself on a map or measure the distance between locations.
Also, housed on the base plate is the bezel. You can rotate this with varying degrees to find your bearings or locate your position. Inside the housing, you will find declination marks, the orienting arrow, and lines, which is used to orient the map, and the needle, the magnetic piece that shows your direction.
Some of these terms may seem foreign at first. Luckily, there are several blogs, training videos, and expert websites that can help you familiarize yourself.
Tip 3: Adjusting Declination
If you’re a beginner, you may wonder what is used to find true north on a compass. This is achieved by declination. Adjusting the declination is necessary if you purchase a new compass, haven’t used one in years, or are hiking in a location far from your previous alignment.
A map easily depicts true north. However, magnetic fields may skew your compass’s alignment to this point, creating “magnetic north.” The difference between these values is often marginal, but in the field, where every coordinate and step matters, it can become a huge issue.
The degree of declination is often portrayed on an updated topographic map or the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)’s website. Often, adjusting your declination is as simple as using the equipped screwdriver in conjunction with the compass’s declination scale. However, each model requires a different method, so you should consult your owner’s manual.
Tip 4: How to Use a Compass with a Map
After you’ve adjusted the declination, you should begin orientation. Rotate the bezel to align the orienting arrow with the north symbol. Align the edge of the baseplate with the corner of the map. You can hold the map or place it on a flat surface. Rotate the compass and map, until the needle is aligned with the orienting arrow. Both arrows should point north.
Tip 5: How to Use Compass Features
Using the additional features of a compass can make your treks more fun and efficient. For example, you can use your bezel to quickly find bearings. This allows you to easily navigate to a specific location on your map. To find a bearing, align the compass so that the straight edge creates a line from your position to your destination.
Rotate the bezel so that the orienting lines in the housing are parallel to the North-South lines on your map. By now, there should be a value that your index line points to. This is your bearing. You can now use this value to navigate to that location.
Drawing to a Close
Learning how to use a compass could save your life in the field. Before beginning your compass learning sessions, choose a reliable device with the features essential for map reading. Become familiar with these basic features before moving on to novice techniques, such as declination and orienting to your map.
Once you’ve mastered these techniques, move on to advanced skills, such as bearings. Remember, practice makes perfect. Practice your technique with every opportunity, until you’ve mastered reading compasses.