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Basic Information About Using a Compass 
by Daved Brosche May 19, 2005

Many people get lost in the wild every year. Most of them have a compass but don’t know how to use it. Below you will find some basic information about compasses that will help you get started learning how to use this very important tool.

How to Choose a Compass

The compass may seem like an artifact in this high-tech day and age, especially with the use of GPS and satellite navigation. The truth is that no amount of technology will be replacing the compass anytime soon.

This piece of equipment may be old and small but it has remained one of the 10 essential items to bring into the backcountry since its creation. Unlike GPS units that fail in bad weather or in dense vegetation, a compass is the best tool for navigating through any type of weather condition.

Being able to read a map and compass is a vital outdoor skill. If you are going to spend any extended length of time in the backcountry or outdoors you should take the time to learn this skill. There is too much detail to cover in this article and this skill is better learned hands-on from an experienced person. But make sure you learn this skill because it could save your life someday.

Types of Compasses

  • Accessory Compass: These are the most basic types of compasses. You can find these on key chains, watches and even cell phones. They can get the job done but may require a little more skill on the individual's part. They point magnetic north but are more for novelty use or just to get a general direction.
  • Basic Compass: These are cheap and great for beginners or people just looking to learn the basics of compass use. These will work fine for traveling in the backcountry. The only difference between these and more expensive compasses are some of the features such as declination adjustment and mirrors.
  • Specialized Compass: While a little bit more expensive than the basic compass, these have everything you need to get the job done. Think of these as a new car with all the options. They come fully equipped with declination adjustments, mirrors, magnifying glass, etc. This compass is worth the extra cost and almost a must-have if you plan to travel off-trail frequently.



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