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Don't Get Lost - Learning to Use a Compass

Jun 6, 2008
Getting lost in the wilderness can be a hassle and cause panic at the very least but can also lead to more serious trouble. A winding trail can easily disorient you and it's important to know your heading. Make sure you bring a map and a compass. Before you set out on a camping trip or hike, it's essential to learn how to use a compass or it will be useless.

You may be thinking that since you use a GPS you don't need to learn how to use a compass but you never know when you'll need to use one. Since GPS units depend on technology, there are a number of things that could go wrong; running out of batteries, dropping the unit in a river, breaking the display, etc.

Compasses have been around for centuries and they don't rely on technology. They work using the earth's natural magnetic field so it's an essential piece of equipment for campers and hikers.

First off, you need to know that most compasses don't point to true north since there is a large amount of ore many miles away from the North Pole. This causes the needle to point slightly off from the true north with more of a deviation the closer north you are. More elaborate compasses allow you to adjust for this; a good map will tell you how much adjustment is required. For the most part though, it is only a slight discrepancy so you shouldn't be too concerned about it.

Since the sun rises in the East and sets in the West you can use these as guidelines if you don't know your direction. On your map, draw an imaginary line in the direction you wish to go and compare it with the compass. Though it may not be a hundred percent accurate, it will give you a general direction which is better than nothing if you're lost.

When you go off a marked trail, note which direction you are heading. This will help you in case you can't find your way back. If you head west off the trail then track back east, you should be able to find the marked trail.

A good idea is to practice your compass skills on an easy, well marked trail. With your compass, try to determine the direction you are going and then compare it with the actual direction. This will give you an idea of how good your compass skills are.
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