Compass Basics

It’s not that hard … really.

Well unless you want to be a Navy Seal or an Army Ranger.  Most of us use a compass to get general headings and to help us get back on track if we’ve missed a signpost hiking at night in the desert or in the rain when the visibility is not optimal.  I’ll link a great video that goes over declination, line of sight etc.  It covers how to use a compass and a map at the same time.  I’ll link another video for using a compass with and without a map.  Right off the bat I’ll say a basic Orienting compass like a Suunto M3 is simple and great for outdoor navigation with a map.  If you are not going cross country and you’re hiking a trail … the simplest compass like the one displayed is sufficient.  If you learn to use it correctly.  You can find compasses with multiple functionality.  Temperature, whistle, flint & even a pocket knife.  Your basic Swiss Army compass.  You’ll be sending me some love from the trail if you take my advice and leave that 1 pound Lensatic type mirrored lead weight at home on your desk.  In the thousands of miles I’ve backpacked I can count on my fingers and toes with digits left over the number of times I had to use a compass … well not counting the times I’ve played with it finding out how it worked.  But even with an expensive GPS device attached to my Ribz front pack I carry one.  The ten second explanation … sorry there isn’t one.  I cannot stress the importance of understanding compass basics if you are going out into the wild on your own.  I may joke about it but it is a skill just as important as finding water, finding shelter, understanding hypothermia  & knowing your limitations.  In my university days I was stupid enough to take Celestial Navigation and yes there was a young lady involved in the decision.  OMG this was before all the great calculators they have now.  Took you four pages of calculations to find your way across the street.  Compared to that, following basic line of sight compassing came easily to me.  Its not that way for everyone.  You’ll have to discover your comfort level while hiking and carry the equipment that meets your needs.  I carry a Delorme  In-Reach Explorer when I’m on trail but that’s another post.  Like an American Express, costly at the end of the month but you won’t leave home without it.

The following YouTube video will help you with the basics of using map & compass to get you where you’re headed.

The following YouTube video has a great deal more content.  Very thorough, but you will be ready for any hike, if you watch it enough to understand it.