I have sinned, I'm sorry

12:33 p.m. on December 8, 2009 (EST)
37 reviewer rep
749 forum posts

I have sinned. I had another account in another name. I did it to prove something though and then I started having too much fun with it.

I am Greenhorn and the reason I did it was to show something. That even though traditional logic says a compass is an essential piece of survival gear and EVERYBODY has one, that almost no one can actually use it for its intended purpose. Probably 98% of compass owners can't orient a map or figure out how to determine or follow a bearing. A GPSR does this for you if you have coordinates and extra batteries.

So anyway this is why I say a compass is pretty much useless to most people.

Jim S

12:44 p.m. on December 8, 2009 (EST)
848 reviewer rep
3,892 forum posts

You're forgiven, Jim. You're not the first, nor will you be the last, to sin.

Thanks for fessing up publicly.

11:11 a.m. on December 9, 2009 (EST)
30 reviewer rep
560 forum posts

A compass is not a lot of help without a map to give what you see in the palm of your hand some context. This then means you can also read a map AND use a compass.

For most who stay to trails, an up to date map (and a load of common sense) is probably all one needs. If off trail or on a very iffy trace, in foliage or flat tundra that you can't find a bearing in, a compass will be handy to have along.

I got lost (meaning I didn't know which way to go), 1/4 mile off from a road. I spent the better part of 3 hours trying how to figure out which way back was the road to Slave Lake in Alberta. It was overcast, no shadow and starting to rain. A passing rumbling truck about 100 yards to the other direction of where I thought the road was, kept me from spending a very uncomfortable night kicking myself in the back side.

Would have given a lot to have any kind of a compass on just a small, routine photograph jaunt into an ancient forest. The declination would have been a factor, however, if you didn't know about it. I now have a cheap kid's dollar compass in the photo bag. Odds are I will never need it again. It is nestled in along with a cheap bullet level - another story.

11:38 a.m. on December 9, 2009 (EST)
73 reviewer rep
303 forum posts

I'm a book-hound, if anything. I've had a fair amount of map/compass training and, when I want to refresh, I found this book to be excellent:


He covers a LOT of info on navigation and the compass/map information is very thorough and well-presented.

10:34 p.m. on December 9, 2009 (EST)
37 reviewer rep
749 forum posts

I have one of those thermometer/compass zipper pulls on the top pocket of my pack. The plastic is scratched and I can barely see the compass inside, yet its actually the only compass I use or need anymore. Its nice when the sun is behind thick clouds and you can't see any landmarks and there are no shadows. It won't point to my truck, but it does make it easier to avoid heading east when you know you should be going west.

Jim S

11:08 a.m. on December 10, 2009 (EST)
26 reviewer rep
98 forum posts

I agree that many of the people hiking or backpacking don't know how to use a map and compass even if the carry them. And I agree that a gps provides them with something they can more easily use if needed.
I use a compass, topo map, aerial photo map, and gps while hiking and backpacking for the fun of it. I've also used them to keep from getting lost when bushwhacking.
If you know how to use a map and compass, then you can use it to keep from getting lost. But you can do the same thing with a gps.
Once you are truly lost, the map and compass don't provide much help. (You aren't truly lost if you can use the map and compass to determine your position. At most you are just off your intended course.)
A GPS, however, can guide you back to a known point when you don't where you are. In that regard, it is much more useful than a map and compass.
However, to fully utilize a mapping gps, one needs to have basic map reading skills which don’t take much effort to acquire..
There will always be people like me who will cling to our maps and compasses partly out of romantic notions and traditions, and partly because we enjoy using them.

But those using just a gps are no worse off.

5:52 p.m. on December 15, 2009 (EST)
0 reviewer rep
17 forum posts

I agree with nogods, when I go hiking I take with me a map, compass and GPRS unit.

Most of the time I find myself using the GPRS and sometimes the map. If for nothing else then the ease of use and the ability to track my stats (distance, time, route).

You can use a map and a compass to find your location when lost, or at least give you an educated guess on where you could be. Use the Map to find features that stick out of the landscape and try to triangle your position, just like a GPRS.

3:25 p.m. on December 18, 2009 (EST)
0 reviewer rep
13 forum posts

All GPSes do not show you direction. My Garmin XTrax Legend will tell me a waypoint is "x" miles in a general direction. I have to have a Compass to determine where that direction is located from where I stand. It is hard to orient a map when you are deep in the woods and there are no recognizable landmarks to sight. I'd never go into the woods without a compass even if I do not know much about using one. I know enough to find a major river or road if my GPS fails, which has happened.

1:25 a.m. on January 3, 2010 (EST)
1,711 reviewer rep
3,962 forum posts

I totally agree about using a compass w/o a map. One may as well use the watch (hour/minute hand) technique with the sun. Probably end up with the same conclusion...LOST. I personally thank god for my military training in the past. Map nav was force fed down are throats so for that I am blessed.

I personally have never used a GPS unit in the BC because personally I enjoy accidentally finding the unexpected, then again there have been negatives to this approach as well.

I always carry a compass and a map(when possible)with me. Same model I carried in the Army when I was 18... I have played with the Bushnell backtrack although I look at it as a toy. But in some weird way it seemed to get me back in the general area I was trying to find. Then again straight lines are not always the best route.

8:01 a.m. on January 3, 2010 (EST)
4 reviewer rep
70 forum posts

well here we are talking about human error.we have to be smarter than the device we are useing.compass or gps if ya dont prepare to go into da woods ya could get lost.i once found a gps on da rock harbor trail on isle royale n.p. i recognized it rite a way it was da same model of da one i had.saw da young fella trying to use it on da boat on da way over.got to da dock waiting to go back and there he was i gave him back his gps and ask him how he liked it .he said he didnt know how to use it so it was dead weight in his pack.he proceded to through it as far as he could into da harbor.

2:52 p.m. on January 4, 2010 (EST)
78 reviewer rep
440 forum posts

While agreed on the lack of knowledge held by too many hikers/backpackers, I'll still recommend to any who'll listen that good map/compass skills are of major benefit in the backcountry. Neither requires batteries or anything else except the knowledge of how to use 'em properly. While they won't break trail for you, they can help an informed hiker find the trail to break.

2:58 p.m. on January 21, 2010 (EST)
775 reviewer rep
2,162 forum posts

GPS Batteries die.

Also, If you are lost in the wilds for any reason, you do not know how long you will be there, or when you will find help. Being prepared is the only way to survive, and the only thing you may have is your knowledge and wits.

I find that most who learn to use a GPS unit before orienteering never learn to properly use a map, compass, or their head. One of the key things that must happen when learning to use a map and compass is how to be building a 3D map in your head of where you are the moment you start out. If you learned without a GPS it is too easy and becomes like a crutch or sling- the longer you use it, the more you need it and the weaker your muscles get. If you find yourself in the wild, without a map, compass, or gps you will be in a much better situation if you leaned to navigate using a map and Compass.

I have never used a GPS unit and have never had difficulty determining where I was or where I need to go. That is not to say that I haven't lost my bearings and had to redetermine them- believe me, I have. But it was my knowledge and training that set me right...without a GPS.

I am not saying that GPS isn't a wonderful tool, but reliance on it is a big mistake.

2:55 p.m. on January 22, 2010 (EST)
37 reviewer rep
749 forum posts


I agree with you that Daniel Boone navigation is probably the best, that is being aware of your surroundings and THINKING about where you're going and how to get out. While I do not rely on a GPS, that is I have plenty of wilderness skills to get me home, I hate losing my truck in a parallel canyon and a compass is simply zero help in such situation. The whole basis of navigation with a compass is "NEVER GET LOST" because if you have map and compass and know where you are, you can find where you want to be. When you arrive at "where you want to be" and your truck is not there, you have broken the law of compass navigation, you have become lost, and only a GPS will point the way to it. Depending on the terrain, forestation etc, it can be very hard to get unlost with a compass unless you can get to point where you can see some recognisable land mark. I think having a GPS is far more important than having a SPOT, cell phone, or other means of calling for help because you failed to take advantage of modern navigation innovations. Now all that said - I generally take Google photographic prints of the area I'm going to with a route marked on it that I spent time at home researching from satellite photos and it has way points marked on it so that I can use my GPS to locate EXACTLY where I am. If both sets of batteries run out, I go back to the map and compass idea, or the Daniel Boone method.

Again I am saying - not having a GPS because of your attitude about electronics gear or about traditional methods, is denying yourself the use of modern navigation techniques because of a preference for traditional techniques, does that also mean that you wear only wool and leather and have an oiled canvas tent?

Jim S

4:12 p.m. on January 22, 2010 (EST)
775 reviewer rep
2,162 forum posts


I think I might have communicated a stronger message about the GPS than I meant to- I am not at all suggesting that it is bad to utilize a GPS. But that relying on GPS as the main or sole means of navigation has many potential pitfalls. My brother, who is an avid and capable outdoorsman, uses a GPSR very frequently to track his routes and specific locations before, during, and after a trip. But he doesn't *rely* on it to guide him. He learned to navigate well before the dawn of the GPS era, and uses GPS no differently than he would with just a map and compass. The advantage is that it provides a higher degree accuracy in shorter amount of time. If my brother dropped his GPSR accidentally, into water, or the screen cracked, or it just stopped working, he would be able to navigate perfectly anyway.

My point was that many GPS users couldn't find their way out of a paper bag if they found themselves without thier GPS unit. This is because they never properly learned the actual use of a map, compass, & navigation, *or* they overly rely opon the device instead of their heads. I am not asuming that you or anyone else here falls into either of those categories.

As far as your assumptions that I have a negative attitude towards electronics or modern techniques and gear. Nothing is furthar from the truth. I intend on getting a GPSR someday and look forward to utilizing it. I love technology, and absolutely love all of our marvelous modern gear that is effective, light, and small. But to rely soley on modern gear without learning survivial- how to naturally build a fire, how to shelter, how to obtain water, how to obtain food, navigate, etc- is to be at a inherent dissadvantage. Most of the people who die in the Appalachians do so *not* because they lacked what they needed to survive, but because they didnt know how to use what they had and/or was available to them. Almost always they were in survivable situations, but because of lack of knowing what to do, and over-reliance on gear, they died.

I am sure I am not communicating anything new to those experienced like yourself, but I feel the topic is one that needs to be expounded upon and discussed so that those who may benefit won't end up as one of those tragic souls we read about in the Journals of Rescue and Recovery.

5:04 p.m. on January 22, 2010 (EST)
37 reviewer rep
749 forum posts


I am glad that I didn't offend you. I learned to use a compass and map a very long time ago - this is my 61st birthday today. A lot of people will carry a compass and even a map with no idea of how to use them. And I'm sure other experienced compass users have had the experience of being a might befuddled and dragging out a map and compass in the rain or snow while under pressure and being totally annoyed at how hard it can be to get un-lost. I those cases pulling out a GPS and entering "truck" and having the little arrow point off in some direction that you were sure was wrong is like - well like manna from heaven. Ive certainly been in that situation. I was SURE the ruck was on this road, after all its the only road in the area - wrong, the truck was on an unmarked road on the other side of a ridge, the GPS saved me at least 5 miles of hiking in snow fall. As long as it works, it has never lied to me.

My fear is that people see compass on the list of essential items and carry one thinking they won't get lost and nothing could be further from the truth. Truly as some sage member of this group said - brains and using them should be item #1.

Jim S

5:53 p.m. on January 22, 2010 (EST)
775 reviewer rep
2,162 forum posts


thanks as well, I never want to come across as criticizing or condescending-

I wholeheartedly agree with that quote! :)

6:07 p.m. on January 22, 2010 (EST)
775 reviewer rep
2,162 forum posts

Oh, and Happy Birthday!

8:09 p.m. on January 26, 2010 (EST)
4,404 reviewer rep
6,005 forum posts

... does that also mean that you wear only wool and leather and have an oiled canvas tent?
Jim S

Hmmm, I seem to recall a couple camping trips where Jim S did just that {;=>D. Well, maybe not the oiled canvas tent - that's way too much weight (though the Old GreyBeard sometimes uses one - from Panther Primitives).

By the way, JS, have you ever used a fire piston?

8:26 p.m. on January 26, 2010 (EST)
37 reviewer rep
749 forum posts

Nope the fire piston is new to me, pretty cool though.

When I am primative camping I do not carry a map or compass or GPS. The great wariors in the heavens guide me.

You have oiled canvas, we couldn't affor the oil...

Jim S

8:42 p.m. on January 26, 2010 (EST)
1,663 reviewer rep
3,956 forum posts

I haven't used a fire piston either, looked at them online at a website of a guy who handcrafts them. I was tempted, but you know I'm probably not giving up my Bic lighter and flint & steel combination.

Here is a similar site:


From what I can tell the fire piston only holds a small amount of tinder, I'm used to using a good bit of dryer lint or forest litter, tree bark etc. and not having to transfer an ember to a bed of tinder. But it may be something to learn.

5:18 p.m. on January 27, 2010 (EST)
20 reviewer rep
15 forum posts

I love the Map and Compass. Haven't left home without them.. Hell I have a backup thermo-compass on both of my backpacks to ensure that i'll never be without direction. Though I have been hiking where Magnesium rich beddings have thrown my bearings for quite an unexpected spin. I was following a contour paralleling a trail so it was no biggie but as soon as I refreshed my bearings and noticed that north was suddenly west something became apparently clear... Infact I was out doing research and i bested my professor by using a compass to locate the bed, which was stratigraphically overlying the magnesium rich bed.

It is a nice comfort when someone I'm with has a Gps unit. Found My new favorite quote, thanks Jim S!

4:27 p.m. on March 10, 2010 (EST)
8 reviewer rep
10 forum posts

If you have both, take both and know how to use them.

11:32 a.m. on March 11, 2010 (EST)
4,404 reviewer rep
6,005 forum posts

...Magnesium rich beddings have thrown my bearings for quite an unexpected spin. ..

Ummm, clawsoncc, that's not quite correct. Magnesium is a non-magnetic element. However, a very common mineral family is the ferromagnesian group, which includes everything from the semiprecious garnets to a whole range of ferric and ferrous compounds ("ferrum" = iron, with ferrum being the Latin name, which is magnetic). Those are the dark minerals in igneous rocks. The various lavas (volcanic magma that has cooled and solidified) often have significant magnetic fields embedded during their cooling and show up as magnetic anomalies. There is an infamous volcanic island near Juneau, lying under one of the main approach paths to the Juneau airport and marked on the air charts as having a 120 degree (yes, one hundred twenty) magnetic deviation.

Magnesia (MgO, magnesium oxide) is often found in the form of periclase in contact metamorphic rocks, hence often in conjunction with magnetite (Fe3O4), which might be what you are referring to. The term "magnetism" comes from a region in Turkey named Magnesia where there are rocks with periclase and magnetite that have a fairly strong magnetic field.

April 26, 2018
Quick Reply

Please sign in to reply

More Topics
This forum: Older: 360 Degree Pictures Newer: Selk bag 2, wearing 2 with Zippo hand warmers.
All forums: Older: Handheld GPS - I need advice Newer: Foothills Trail