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Map and Compass

The Compass

Map and Compass

The map and compass are essential tools you would want to keep in your backpack. Together, these tools can help you navigate unfamiliar terrain. Using the compass is a specialized skill that requires practice and good understanding of how the compass works. The compass and the map put together can provide you with valuable information while hiking or backpacking. When properly used, these tools can lead you to water, point you to the correct trail at the fork, can be used to evaluate distances and pinpoint your location in case of an emergency.

Most people I know, carry a map and a compass in their backpack when trekking in the wilderness, why wouldn’t you?  At the same time 9 out of 10 don’t know how to use them correctly. I prefer to use a plain old low-tech compass to a smart phone or a GPS.  My cheap $6 to $10-dollar compass requires no batteries and it relies on the Earth’s magnetic field to help me find directions.  Low-tech, low-cost and low-maintenance.

In this series of articles, we will go over the basics of using the compass and applying that knowledge to navigate unfamiliar terrain with a map.

Compass Basics

Compasses come in different styles and price ranges.  I like to use a plain orienteering compass at the whooping cost of $6 to $10 dollars each.  That way if it breaks it won’t hurt the bank much.  Better yet, carry two in case you step on one and break it accidentally.

Take a look at this picture to familiarize yourself with the various parts of a compass.

Compass parts

  1. Baseplate – used to keep the compass flat and level.
  2. Direction of Travel Arrow – used to trace your course or direction of travel or get a field bearing.
  3. Index Line – used to read the angle bearing in degrees.
  4. Bezel with Degrees Dial - rotates to align the magnetic needle with magnetic north.
  5. Magnetic Needle – it aligns itself to magnetic north.
  6. Orienteering Arrow – it used to point the direction of true north
  7. Orienteering Lines – used to align the compass to the map.

You may have noticed that I wrote “True North” and “Magnetic North” in my descriptions above.  What is this business about True and Magnetic North? Aren’t both the same? I will explain the difference in the next article.  It took me several months and practice to get my brain wrapped around the concept of more than one north and how to make the proper adjustments.  Lucky for you, I have step-by-step instructions that explain how account for magnetic north when you want to find true north.  For now, just follow mother nature and accept the fact that a compass needle always points to magnetic north. All will become clear if you read the rest of the articles.

Knowing how to read and use the various parts of your compass will insure you find your way in the field. As you read through this series of articles you will learn how use the different parts of the compass to read the map and get field directions correctly.