A compass is one of the most important tools that you can own when you decide to head out for an adventure in the wild. Although it might be surprising to some, there are many areas in the world that still lack cell service. You can’t always depend upon being able to use your smartphone’s map app, and even satellite GPS systems can be down or out of batteries.
For this reason, one of the best practices for any outdoor adventure is to tuck a compass into your backpack that you can use in an emergency. Keep in mind, however, that a compass is only helpful when you know how to use one. This guide will take you through all of the basics that you need to know to get started with compass navigation.
Identify the Basic Parts
Your first step is to simply take out your compass and get a good look at it. There are several essential parts to a compass that you should be able to identify right away. These include the following:
Learn How to Adjust the Declination
One of the most basic things that everyone needs to understand about a compass is that the floating needle points to magnetic north, but this is not the true north that you need for navigation. The majority of maps that you use will use true north as the basis for orientation. Therefore, you will need to adjust the declination.
Declination simply refers to the angle of distance that exists between true north and magnetic north. This distance can change depending upon your location and the shifting of tectonic plates over time. If you do not compensate for this difference, then your compass use can lead you astray.
To make this adjustment, you will first want to find the declination value for your location. If your map is up to date, then you should be able to find it here. Make sure to check the revision date of the map to ensure that you are working with the most accurate declination value. The value should have a specific angle and direction. With this value, you will then adjust the declination according to the procedure that is required for your compass. You can also set it and forget it as long as you continue taking trips within the same location.
Use Triangulation to Identify Location
There may be times when you are completely lost or do not have a definable location that you can find on the map. Triangulation involves taking three bearings using different landmarks in the area and marking them down on the map. In some cases, you may be able to get them to all meet at a single point, which would be your clear location. However, it its more common to find that the lines create more of a triangle of the area that covers your location.
Remember These Final Helpful Tips
Using a compass gets easier the more you practice. However, you should also remember to use common sense. If you get a bearing that does not seem right, then be sure to recheck your work. A compass reading can sometimes be wrong if the tool is too close to metal objects such as your hunting knife or a flashlight. You can also rely on your other wilderness survival knowledge such as watching how the sun sets or rises to feel more confident about the compass readings that you use to get to the right location.
Learning how to use a compass is relatively simple, and it could save your life if you somehow lose your place on the water or trail. Now that you’ve got the basics, be sure to practice using your compass. Feeling confident with your navigation tool will help you stay calm and find your way if you ever need it to recover from an emergency.