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Using a Compass

A compass is a very valuable camping tool especially if you plan on doing some hiking too. However, it’s important that you learn how to use the compass effectively. Nearly everyone knows that the compass needle is always pointing toward magnetic north – but that really isn’t enough information to get you out of the woods should you get lost! The “way out” of a situation like this isn’t always due North!

So, step one is getting to know your compass. If you look at the face of a compass it will have 360 degree notches all around the circumference. It will also have the initials N, S, W, and E for the directions of North, South, West and East respectively.

As you hold the Compass, there is a travel needle. This is the needle that indicates the direction in which you WANT to go. Your other needle should always show where true north lies. So if you want to go South West, knowing there was a road that way, you’d turn carefully in a circle watching the travel needle until it points toward that direction in the compass housing. One word of caution: make sure you’re looking at the TRAVEL needle, move slowly and keep the compass flat in your palm or you might not get good results.

Now that you have a direction you want to keep the compass handy but don’t make it your whole focal point. Instead look to the distance of where you’re heading and find a marker of some sort to work toward, perhaps a tall tree or a rock ledge. Stop regularly as you walk to check the compass and make sure you’re still on mark. By the way, the reason not to keep your eyes on the compass is simple – you’re likely to trip over other items in the landscape.

We strongly suggest trying this in familiar territory before going out in the deep woods depending only on your compass as a guide. Additionally, take the time to look at a map and familiarize yourself with some of the important landmarks locally and the approximate direction in which they lie from your campsite. This allows you to go in better prepared.

Finally, you should be aware that if you’re traveling in a region that has a lot of iron ore your compass might not work correctly. Also check out your gear to make sure there are no other magnetized items so that you can trust your results.


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