I would like to say upfront that the search option here has helped me a great deal. When I was curious as to what everyone carried for first aid I found a "thread" ( I believe that is what they are called ) which answered most of my questions. I would like to know however, what items you did not take with you, that at one time or another you wished you had. I searched compasses and found a thread debating compass vs GPS and after reading 2 pages my head was spinning so bad I got lost in my own house for 3 days. I have waterproof maps of Yellowstone and I intend to get a GPS and will hopefully be very familiar with using it. I still think I need to get a compass. Are they not all the same? I found a place online which attempted to teach me how to use one but I have a funny feeling it was the same nice old lady who tried to teach me algebra. Any advice on what to buy and how to go about learning to use it would be much appreciated.
get one that is liquid filled and has a declination setting on it. the declination is how far magnetic north is from true north, and a compass with a declination setting on it has an adjustible little arrow on it that you can set so that you can line the needle up with the arrow and then "N" points to true north. Sounds silly (you could just remember what the declination is ) but in my experience people forget when they are tired, cold, etc.
Silva and suunnto make good ones I have a collection of silvas, but really a "branded" compass doesn't matter.
In my opinion, you should learn to use a compass before you start with any of the GPS technology. There are any number of books that will introduce you to map and compass techniques; just google orienteering as a start. You could get involved with a local orienteering group to learn map and compass techniques.
IIRC, Silva, a major maker of compasses offers a good introductory pamphlet on the subject. If you purchase a Silva compass, you get a copy of the pamphlet. My preference in compasses is the type with a sighting mirror. They will keep you on course and also let you check your face for zits.
In learning to use a compass, there are a number of essential skills to learn. Among these are: Following a compass bearing; finding ones location by triangulation; converting between magnetic and true bearings and estimating distance along a bearing by pacing.
GPS is useful but has its limitations and shortcomings. They are dependent on batteries and are a complex piece of electronics; don't drop one on rock. They are not always reliable beneath a heavy forest canopy or in steep-walled canyons. Finally, they are another gadget that one has to worry about. I used GPS professionally and liked it for some purposes. But for backpacking, on trails, I don't feel that they are worth the weight. I would never rely just on a GPS; I would always have a map and compass along as backup. If you use a map and compass well, there is seldom any need for the GPS.
Of course, there is the cool factor. If a person is interested in technology and likes to have state-of-the-art equipment then a GPS is the way to go. But for the simple country backpacker, it is more technology than necessary.
Well, not all compasses are the same. You can't get one out of a cereal box and think it'll point you in the right direction, lol. So in other words, a good compass is worth the money you'll spend.
Something waterfilled is always a plus because the needle with a lot easier to read accurately on a more consistent basis. A free floating needle will be bouncy.
Something with lines of declination I think they're called, I just call them degrees, is a must. Obviously this is something that has 360 degrees around the perimiter so you can determine the geographic north from magnetic north, magnetic north of course being what your compass will be pointing at. Most maps have the degree in difference on them at the bottom, but it always varies because of longitudes and latitudes. So in some places it might be 18 1/2 degrees difference between geographic amd magnetic north, and in others it might be 16 degrees, so on and so forth.
I have a Suunton compass I like because it has a few measurement lines on it as well as a little magnifying glass on it so I can read certain things on the map better if need be. But that's just the kind of compass I like, it isn't a necessity and you may want more or less. But, I will say, at the end of the day, you'll want to sit down with a map whenever you get a compass and figure out how to use it before you head out. It really is not nearly as difficult as it might sound, especially once you get your brain wrapped around it.
I really don't know if there are any good books out there to teach you how to use it in an easy way, I learned from the Army so I've never actually looked to see if there is any literature like that. I think if you poke around on the internet long enough you might find something really useful, or someone on here who is better at explaining it clearly step by step than I might be so kind.
In all things of nature there is something of the marvelous.-Aristotle
Thank you for all the advice. With your help I have narrowed my choices down to two. There seems to be a large amount of information available on the internet for learning to use one. Once I actually have compass in hand perhaps I will be able to make sense of it all. Thanks again.
Loc: Ozark Mountains in SW Missouri
In my opinion, you should learn to use a compass before you start with any of the GPS technology.
I respect Pika's opinion and I know there are solid arguments to back-up what he says, but I disagree. Here's why:
A compass can break too.
I've had a Garmin eMap for about 5 years and it's been a very reliable piece of gear.
A GPS can help you learn to use a map and compass and confirm or dispute what you've determined to be your location. Once you're hitting a 100% success rate with your map and compass and you can convert your location to an accurate Lat/Long you can say the GPS is dead weight.
A working GPS can pinpoint your exact location in a few seconds. This is more than just handy. It could save your life, or someone that is with you, or someone that you run across that needs help. I bring a compass, map, and GPS.
All that said, it's best to know your current location by paying close attention to how you got there. Learn this skill and you'll never be "Lost" even if you don't know "Exactly" where you are.
Read up on the method, There are several books avialable and many internet resorces. Then purchase a TOPO map of a know area like a state park etc. Take the map and the compass and maybe the book and go out and try to make sense of the whole thing. Soon things will click.
A GPS is even more worthless than a compass without a good map and a working knowledge. With acompass you can at least pick a direction and head in a consistant direction. A GPS w/o a map will not tell you anything unless you have at least marked waypoints before you get lost.
Grumpy said" A GPS is even more worthless than a compass without a good map and a working knowledge. With a compass you can at least pick a direction and head in a consistent direction. A GPS w/o a map will not tell you anything unless you have at least marked waypoints before you get lost." ___________________________________________________________
ahem... when I'm fishing I can set a waypoint at my truck and wander up of downstream then hike cross country in a line straight to my truck, without knowing where I am and without a map.
As for compasses. I got of those that you float on a bit of water in the palm of your hand - yes it does point north HOWEVER a nasty little secret they do not want you to know, compasses can become reverse magnetized and point south. I'll bet there are members of this board that its happened to. Jim
These are my own opinions based on wisdom earned through many wrong decisions. Your mileage may vary.
That is pretty much what I do in country with hills and valleys. But, I have worked professionally in areas with large expanses of relatively flat forested ground, such as the boreal forests of Alaska and northern Canada. Useful landmarks can be rare in many of these places as are high points from which to view them. In these conditions, a map is less helpful than is a compass though I wouldn't leave the truck without both; the map will show where to find the roads. In fact, in these conditions, now, I would most likely use (ahem) a GPS.
[quote=Pika]That is pretty much what I do in country with hills and valleys. But, I have worked professionally in areas with large expanses of relatively flat forested ground, such as the boreal forests of Alaska and northern Canada. Useful landmarks can be rare in many of these places as are high points from which to view them. [quote=Pika]
I recall very vividly about, well, let's see, I was 13, so 27 years ago working my way through an area hunting solo for the first time, and walking out of a black spruce swamp I had been walking "straight" north through on game trails on a cloudy day. I got out of the crap and checked my compass.. I was walking south.... I had some serious thought to put through my 13 year old head before I believed it, and realized "yes, you indeed can walk in a complete circle and not notice at all in this weather". and go back through the black spruce again...
Darn good thing my dad had drilled through my head not to get prideful or stupid when it happened.. and that it would