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Guide on How to Use a Compass: Avoid Getting Lost in the Woods

Guide on How to Use a Compass: Avoid Getting Lost in the Woods

Many people think that there is no use of a compass during a camping trip, but, in reality, it is one of the significant essentials when going out for camping. Previously, I was of the same thinking that compass is of no use, and I didn’t even know how to use it. However, one incident changed my whole thinking. A compass is a tool which points towards the right direction. In this article, we will explain on how to use a compass to avoid getting lost in the woods.

Once, when I was a teenager, I went on a camping trip with my friends, and suddenly we got split up. One other friend of mine and I was lost in the woods with a traditional map and no compass in hand. We were roaming here and there in the dark woods, and it took hours for us to reach the camping site. At that time, I realized the real importance of a compass.

The first thing I did after reaching home from camping is I picked up a compass and learned how to use it. After that day, compass became a camping companion for me, and I always take it with me whenever I go camping.

Knowing About Compass

Guide on How to Use a Compass: Avoid Getting Lost in the Woods

In simple language, a compass can be understood as a tool which points towards the right direction. Cardinal geographic directions are used by the compass to guide us in the right direction. The front-facing side of this navigational instrument is known as the compass rose.

The compass typical shows us four directions, i.e., North, South, East, and West. The rest of the directions lying between these four directions are described based on the two locations. For example, the direction between North and West is called northwest.

Degrees are the way by which directions are shown by the compass. There are 360 degrees angle of a compass as in the case of all the circles. Northside points at 0 degrees, East at 90 degrees, South towards 180 degrees and west towards 270 degrees.

With the help of specific directions in degrees, one can easily mark a particular place. You can even guide someone towards the exact position by telling the specific location in degrees. For example, rather than directing like a little bit of South from the East, you can easily say that move 101 degrees southeast.

Working Of A Compass

Magnetism is used by the compass to show accurate directions. The needle of the compass is set to point towards the magnetic North. The compass’s needle is magnetized to always point at the North directions by the natural magnetic field of the earth. Hence, rotate or move your compass as much as you want, but the magnetized needle will always point towards the magnetic North.

So, even if you are standing facing the south direction, the needle will point opposite to South, i.e., towards you, pointing at the North direction.

After that, if you face towards the North direction, then the needle will point away from you showing the North Direction because North will always remain the North no matter in which direction you are standing.

How Does a Compass Work?

We are living in the age full of high-tech technology. We can find any place and direction using our smartphones and GPS. Then, what is the need to use the compass? The answer is really simple:

  • All of our high-tech gadgets come with limited battery life. Imagine if the battery of your GPS dies while you are lost in the wood. This is where the role of a compass comes. Compass doesn’t use any battery and hence, will help you out in finding the correct direction without worrying about battery life.
  • Even if we consider that your smartphone or GPS has sufficient battery life, but, what are the chances that you get proper network signals in the deep dark woods? Here again, a compass will lend you a helping hand in reaching your desired destination.
  • Another situation in which compass has the edge over your phone is when your phone accidentally breaks during camping. During a camping trip, many people not even prefer to take their phones along because of the fear of losing it or breaking it or accidentally dropping it into the river. Hence, here also, rather than relying on your phone, it is better to use a magnetic compass.

Additional Features Of A Compass

Guide on How to Use a Compass: Avoid Getting Lost in the Woods

Other than the basic feature of showing you the correct direction, some of the compasses come with various other useful features too:

  • Many of the compasses are built on a base plate which can serve as a ruler. Having a measuring ruler with you during camping can help you out in finding the exact location on the map.
  • Some compasses have a new magnifying glass attached to it which can assist in reading the map properly.
  • Luminescent indicators are included in the compasses to aid the campers when they are traveling early before the sunrise and even when they are lost in the dark.
  • Some of the advanced compasses have an added feature of a sighting mirror. This sighting mirror can be helpful when you are at a distant place and trying to follow a particular point. This mirror can even be used as a signaling device in case of emergencies.
  • When you are going for an international traveling trip, then it is better to take along with you a compass with the feature of a global needle. The benefit of this global compass is that it can adjust the variation in the natural magnetic field at a global scale.
  • A compass which includes the feature of clinometers can assist the mountain climbers as well as the hikers. This feature, rather than showing horizontal directions, measures angles vertically also to know the steepness or slope of the mountain or hill.

Learn To Read A Compass

We have already discussed some of the features that a compass possesses, but I would like to repeat some of those as they are the essential ones. A baseplate is simply a plate on which the whole compass is built, but this plate can be very useful when used in coordination with the map. This plate can be used as a ruler to read the map properly.

Baseplate’s one end will be having an arrow, i.e., Direction of Travel Arrow, followed by bearing of the compass which will point towards the direction in which you have to move.

There possess a rotational bezel at the inner side of the compass, which is also known as the azimuth ring. This is a circle of the compass which consists of the marking of 360 degrees angles which will help you to find the correct direction.

Rest of the components of the compass are present inside the needle housing. This housing consists of the bezel upon which is present the index line. The right degrees can be easily identified with the help of this index line.

In the middle of the needle housing, the magnetized needle is present, which always point at the magnetic pole, i.e., the North Pole.

The other components of a compass include the orienting arrow as well as the orienting lines which help orient the bezel in alignment with the North and the south directions by the maps.

Things To Know about Declination

Another concept related to a compass is the Declination. To understand this concept, you should know that the magnetic North, towards which the needle of compass points, has some variation when compared to the ‘True North.’ True North is nothing but the direction which is represented on the maps along with the globes using the longitude lines.

The compass usually shows you the magnetic North, which is a point located in the Arctic region of Canada. The magnetic field of the earth shifts from time to time, which results in the shift of the magnetic North also.

This, in turn, has an effect which creates a difference of location between the magnetic North and the true North. This difference between the two is known as the Declination.

The declination difference can be as large as 20 degrees or can be a few degrees also. The point here which should be noted is that an error of even a few degrees can result in off-routing you by miles. So, it is advisable that a compass should be adjusted by the declination degrees.

To find the declination value, you can take help of the site of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which has a calculator to calculate the declination value of your area.

As soon as you calculate the declination value, you have to adjust your compass accordingly. Here, you have to do some research on adjusting your compass because adjustment setting varies from the compass to compass.

Normally, a compass can be adjusted by adjusting the bezel or the orienting arrows in coordination with the declination value.

Finding The Right Direction

Guide on How to Use a Compass: Avoid Getting Lost in the Woods

Normally, campers use the compass to know the direction in which they are moving. Think of a situation when someone told you that the best place to camp is at the west end of the forest. You can easily find out that end using a compass.

You have to align the compass arrow in conjunction with west lines, and that’s it, the compass will point towards the west end where you want to go.

The basic thing that you have to keep in your mind is that the direction towards which you want to go should be straight out at your frontal end and the direction towards which the arrow is pointing in the direction in which you are heading.

As a precautionary activity, you should always check in advance that the red north needle is directing towards the north direction or not. If it is not pointing at the north direction, then definitely there is something wrong with the compass.

If you are locating a particular direction using the compass, then always remember to look at the compass continuously and move accordingly. This will help you to reach the exact location which you are looking for.

We all know that the sun rises in the East and sets in the west direction. Hence, always keep a note of it, and you’ll have a rough idea about the direction in which you are moving.

Orienting The Map With The Compass

Although orienting the map seems to be a difficult task, but in reality, it is not. It is a simple task in which you have to place your compass on the map and adjust it so that the Direction of Travel Arrow points towards the top of the map. According adjust the bezel too so that the north direction is leveled with the Direction of Travel Arrow.

The next thing to do is to align the edge of the map with the edge of the baseplate. Now, you have to move the aligned map and compass until the magnetic needle is in level with the orienting arrow’s outline. Moreover, this is how orienting your map can become an easy task for you.

Final Lines

Learning to use a compass may seem to be difficult at first, but once you’ll get to know and understand the things, then handling a compass will become very easy for you. During a camping trip, using the compass along with map proves to be helping hand in reaching your desired location.

It’s not that one should not use the latest technology, but learning the basic traditional technology, like a compass, can help you to go a long way without worrying about the battery life or the signal problem.

You have to take care that you don’t break it by accidentally hitting it on some stone or lose it inside the dark woods. Hence, learn to use a compass and never get lost on your camping trip ever again.

Alyce McClain

Alyce here, the person behind WildRadar.com. A busy mom actively involved in camping and other outdoor adventures for the past 10 years. When not camping, loves listening to country music and reads 1 or 2 novels in my beloved kindle.

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