compasses

4:58 p.m. on November 23, 2009 (EST)
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59 year-old raw newbie here who just caught the day-hiking bug down in the Smokies this past summer. Question - how important is it to carry a compass for day hikes on well-marked trails (ex - AT and intersecting trails) if a good map/trail guide is taken along? It wouldn't seem that necessary, and I haven't to date, but most hiking manuals seem to recommend it. Are they assuming the more remote, poorly marked trails than I'm doing, or do safety issues demand it regardless?

5:12 p.m. on November 23, 2009 (EST)
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Sooner or later you're gonna find yourself "flying on instruments," that is, with no visual references because of fog, rain, darkness, whatever. That's the only time you'll definitely need one, and the one time you won't want to be without it.

This Silva Starter is under $10 and weighs practically nothing; I have something similar. I almost never use it because I hike on the same kind of trails you do, but it's nice to have just in case.

If you get one, take some time to learn how to use it with a map and establish a bearing/heading.

7:49 p.m. on November 23, 2009 (EST)
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Welcome thinwirenail,

Tom is correct, stuff happens! It's just wise to carry maps and a compass, they weigh next to nothing and nothing works better when that's what you need.

Sure you're probably not gonna get lost on wide, well packed trails with blazes every hundred feet, but what better time to get in some experience using your map & compass, better now than wait until you get lost!

There are also several other items you should bring that you probably won't need either, but this is how we stay safe, or help others who left these things at home.

There is a list of items called 'The Ten Essentials' that have been a big help to many hikers and backpackers alike, here is a link to the list right here on Trailspace:

http://www.trailspace.com/articles/ten-essentials.html

Happy Trails

8:58 p.m. on November 23, 2009 (EST)
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I would say it is critical, no matter how short or well marked your trail is, to carry a compass. I personally have known people to get turned around and lost simply by walking a hundred feet off trail to go the restroom.

But be sure you learn how to use it or you could be making matters worse if you ever need to use it.

12:15 p.m. on November 24, 2009 (EST)
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While I often hike without map, compass, altimeter, or GPSR (even though I spent 10 years working on system design of various aspects of the NAVSTAR Global Positioning System and some years more on user applications of the GPS), there are some good reasons for having at least a map and compass, even in areas with well-marked trails. As Tom M said, one of the inexpensive baseplate compasses is more than sufficient for anything short of survey work and can come in handy in various circumstances.

In an unfamiliar area with a network of trails, as we have in the state and county parks and open space reserves here in the SFBay Area and as Barb and I became very familiar with when we lived in New England and in the Deep South, when you come to a trail junction, it is a good idea to note whether you turned onto the NE branch or took the west branch ("When you come to a fork in the trail, take it!"). It is a good idea to mark in your notebook which branch you took, or mark it on your map. Unfortunately, a lot of park maps are pretty sketchy.

As Tom mentioned, you will eventually encounter low visibility conditions in your hiking - fog, whiteout blizzard, heavy rain, or even just dense vegetation. In such conditions it is easy to get disoriented. As you start down the trail, take a "safety bearing" so you know which way "home" is.

Maybe on day hikes on well maintained, well marked trails, it is less important. But another important skill is to stop every so often, turn around and look back at the way you came. This is again, very important at trail junctions. Things look very different when going the other way.

1:16 p.m. on November 24, 2009 (EST)
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Once, on a day hike on a well-maintained trail, I went straight instead of turning left. The left turn was the correct one; the straight-ahead was just a spike or spur trail that connected with a forest road for accessibility.

When I got to the forest road, I knew something was up but did not know what. Without a map and compass I would have been seriously confused. But a good compass and a good topo map soon showed me what had happened and where I was, and where I had missed the main trail.

There was no danger. I wasn't wet, tired, hungry or cold. But I could have been any or all of those things.

I always carry at least the Ten Essentials. It doesn't take a lot of weight to have the right gear for a day hike.

7:14 p.m. on November 25, 2009 (EST)
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Thanks for the advice! For such a modest investment it would appear to be foolish not to get one and learn how to use it - I'll be putting it on my "to do" list.

10:19 p.m. on November 25, 2009 (EST)
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Wire

A caveat

If you do not know how to use it, a compass is almost worthless. Simply having a compass is not enough, however simply having a GPS is enough,( as long as you have batteries) think about it. A compass can only point north and without a map on which you know your approximate position, north south east or west can all be equally "lost". A GPS can locate a "spot" on the map, like your vehicle.

Jim S

1:40 a.m. on November 26, 2009 (EST)
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GPS units are a great gadget, but they have one big flaw-no power, no directions. Maps and compasses are cheap. USGS maps are available at a good map shop and many outdoor stores. You can also order them online. A decent plate compass is less than $20.

Learning to use a compass isn't all that difficult. There are easy to understand books as well as websites with simple lessons. Like some other skills, you can practice using a map and compass at home and by walking around your neighborhood. Your local outdoor store might offer classes, although GPS's are the gadget du jour and cost way more, so those get pushed far more than maps and compasses.

Unfortunately, I think map and compass use is given short shrift, like celestial navigation, because people are getting used to having a battery-powered gadget do all the work for them.

1:37 p.m. on November 26, 2009 (EST)
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Caution about using a GPSR (or compass or map)

A compass can only point north and without a map on which you know your approximate position, north south east or west can all be equally "lost". A GPS can locate a "spot" on the map, like your vehicle.

One major failing of a GPSR is that it only tells you where you are and which direction to a pre-stored location. It does not tell you the best or safest route to get to where you want to go, and it does not tell you about hills, cliffs, gullies, or raging rivers in that straight-line path. A compass can tell you what direction you are heading, but it does not tell you what the direction to your desired destination is. A map can tell you the locations of objects relative to each other and how far apart they are, as well as the shape of the land (on a topographic map) and allow you to select the "best" path between locations, but in itself, the map does not tell you where you are or which way to orient the map (orienting the map by landmarks is a basic mapreading skill). The 3 together will provide safe, accurate, and rapid navigation.

BUT....

When using a GPSR (or map or compass for that matter) be sure to look up frequently. Apparently, this fellow forgot to look up, although the discussion on geocaching.com indicates there is some controversy as to exactly what happened. When traveling anywhere, always keep your head on swivel, looking ahead, to the sides, and behind, as well as up and down.

Basic Rule Number One: Always be aware of your surroundings!

9:26 a.m. on November 28, 2009 (EST)
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Wire

A caveat

If you do not know how to use it, a compass is almost worthless. Simply having a compass is not enough, however simply having a GPS is enough,( as long as you have batteries) think about it. A compass can only point north and without a map on which you know your approximate position, north south east or west can all be equally "lost". A GPS can locate a "spot" on the map, like your vehicle.

Jim S

GPS- They do not always work - I had almost been lulled into trusting my GPS when it failed to get aquisition in a cloud bank last winter. It was useless - and the lesson was -- use this GPS as a backup. The old fashioned way of paying attention, having a compass and map, the knowledge to use them, along with a cool head and the ability (gear, skills) to have a fighting chance when things get adventurous.

A gps is great thing when it works - but its not always batteries that cause it not to operate- and if that's all ya got you could end up in trouble, wandering around in the woods, wet from the days rain, it pitch blackness, near the edge of a 100' precipice, on a subfreezing night in the mountains with hurricane force winds, clamping your chattering teeth down on your useless gps to muffle your screams of fear and pain so as not to alert the ravenous winter carnivores who are waiting on this side of the deep, ice skimmed river that, unknown to you or GPS, lies many miles ahead, and between you and safety.

So be careful out there kids. Always have a backup.

10:05 a.m. on November 28, 2009 (EST)
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I can totally vouch for the unease of being fogged in on unfamiliar terrain... it's almost as bad as being out after dark with no light. I remember one time hiking up a hill into the clouds and just telling myself "I'll walk till I hit that fence I know is up there, and I'll follow it back to the right trail." I'd have definitely gotten fidgety if I didn't know the fence was there.

4:59 p.m. on November 28, 2009 (EST)
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When visibility is limited by fog or whatever, one of the best pieces of gear I have found to help me in mountainous terrain is an altimeter.

I carry one even if I have my GPSR with me, GPSR's do not always work.

Used properly, an altimeter can help you fix your position on a contour line on your topo provided you know which slope you are on.

By walking a line and checking your elevation you can eliminate the places where you are not. If your elevation increases to a certain point then levels off, crosses a creek, ridge, etc, then you go down to a certain elevation, you try to find a place like that on the map.

Ideally you should keep up with your location on the topo as you hike, not just check to map every now and then.

11:45 p.m. on December 1, 2009 (EST)
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The Smokies trails are extremely easy to follow and well maintained and a good trail map and trail guide will do the trick.

Having said that, a compass and topo map are light and don't take up much room, so why not take it.

And as someone else pointed out, you can have a backpack full of them and if you don't know how to use them they are worthless.

I haven't purchased a GPS yet but probably will one day.

12:08 a.m. on December 2, 2009 (EST)
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I teach Tenderfoot Scouts how to use a map and compass every year. It is not all that daggone hard. "Be Expert With Map And Compass" will teach more than most people need to know about how to use one, readily available and a good read. Written by Bjorn Kjellstrom IIRC. A Boy Scout manual, also readily available, has got the basics. Saying "don't bother with a compass, use a GPS instead" is bad advice. I would say the opposite. If I could only have one, a GPS or map/compass, give me the latter every time. They have worked just fine for centuries.

3:55 p.m. on December 2, 2009 (EST)
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brer

said quote "Saying "don't bother with a compass, use a GPS instead" is bad advice."

_________________________________________________

You are the only person who said that. I did say that a compass is nearly worthless in many circumstances and to assume that you can find your way out with one, or to assume that you will not get lost merely because you have one is not accurate or reasonable. A GPSR can also fail. Why do we have to have a one or the other stand off? I can show you a map with a location from a GPSR and the compass bearings to everything you can see and you would not even be able to figure out which road you were using only a compass. The GPSR did show me that I was on the correct road, because it does what a traditional navigater would do - keep constant track of where I am, unlike a compass.

For my money however and for the areas I go into, a GPSR is about a hundred times more valuable, for these reason I stated.

As for working for hundreds of years, are you refering to navigation at sea? Perhaps before accurate printed maps? In simpler times knowing the general direction was acceptible.

Jim S

1:16 a.m. on December 3, 2009 (EST)
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If I could only have one, a GPS or map/compass, give me the latter every time.

I would agree, but again, knowledge is the important part.

10:35 a.m. on December 3, 2009 (EST)
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Quite right, Jim, I did not quote your exact wording. Somehow, though, you knew it was your post I was referring to. Here is exactly what you said:

"Simply having a compass is not enough, however simply having a GPS is enough."

That's close enough to "don't bother with a compass, use a GPS instead" for me. Sometimes -- most of the time -- it's not what you said, it's what people hear. And a newbie -- which "thinwirenail" said he is -- who doesn't have experience with both is likely to hear what I said, not what you said. Trust me on this. It's how I make a living -- what is said and what is heard, that is, not compasses and GPS's.

The woods are full of inexperienced people with GPS's who know exactly where they are and have no idea what to do with that information. A GPS is not enough.

Map and compass, plus the kind of training Tenderfoot Scouts receive, is better IMO, and if I had to have one or the other, it would be map/compass. That's what I said. That's what I meant. And that's what I'm sticking to.

Sometimes I carry a GPS, too. They have their uses. I didn't say "ignore GPS."

Finally, I would like to address this: "The GPSR did show me that I was on the correct road, because it does what a traditional navigater would do - keep constant track of where I am, unlike a compass".

I think your training in using a map/compass may not have been sufficient. Part of what I teach Tenderfeet to do -- and I am assuming that anything an 11 year old boy can learn in a weekend, can be learnt by pretty much any reasonably capable person -- is that your head is the computer. You are the one who keeps track of where you are, using the map and compass on a regular basis. If you don't do this, you are not using them properly. Yes, the GPS will do that for you. But it is very simple to use map/compass to do it for yourself.

1:15 p.m. on December 3, 2009 (EST)
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Brer -

I will leap to Jim's defense here. Having spent a bit of time with him in the woods and hills (some of which was retro "really old school" camping), I can assure you that he knows his way around a map and compass.

However, we do have some rules on Trailspace - basically play nice and avoid anything that might be construed as a personal attack. Your statement of:

I think your training in using a map/compass may not have been sufficient.

gets dangerously close to that, though you probably did not intend it as such.

On the other hand, as a decades-long Boy Scout leader (and Eagle with several palms, and all that stuff), I will note that one of my major complaints is that the vast majority of navigation training for the youth is inadequate. It took a number of years and revisions before the orienteering merit badge began to resemble real orienteering. There are still a number of pieces of misleading or inaccurate information on map and compass in BSA publications (your recommendation of using the late Bjorn Kjellstrom's book is right on - unfortunately most adult leaders do not use it or even understand it in teaching the youth). In the HAT course I help staff (and have for a couple of decades), we find that the majority of the adult leaders who are training to advise their youth for 50-milers have a very difficult time understanding topo maps and compasses. We have to devote almost 1/3 of the course to simple navigation skills (same thing for the HAT courses in all 9 of the SFBay Area Councils).

10:03 a.m. on December 4, 2009 (EST)
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Hi Bill,

Since I haven't taught the Orienteering merit badge, I had no idea that it was that bad. What a nightmare.

We have a number of adult leaders in Troop 13 who are proficient with map and compass. I did not know this was an exceptional state of affairs. Now you've made me feel very lucky.

1:25 p.m. on December 4, 2009 (EST)
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Brer,

At last night's Roundtable, we found out that there are a number of upcoming merit badge changes and Tenderfoot-First Class requirement changes. There is an upcoming new merit badge called something like "GPS and GIS", another called something like "Inventions" (rumored to include a requirement to apply for a patent), a new "Scuba" mb. Auto Mechanics is now Auto Maintenance (well, gee, the only thing you can do to these new-fangled cars is pull a dead black box out and plug in a new one - no more tweaking the carb or distributor).

To get Tenderfoot, a kid has to use the EDGE method to teach another person how to tie the square knot (you do know what the EDGE method is, don't you? YAA = "Yet Another Acronym", but it is actually what you have been using in teaching compass - the term EDGE is a registered copyright by BSA - DAve or Alicia, how do you type the "circle R" symbol?). The 2nd Class fire requirement is now "build a fire and set up a lightweight stove", with the comment that "Lighting the fire is not required" (so, what good does that unlit beautifully configured bunch of kindling and logs and set up but unlit stove do?)

Hey, at least Troop Bugler is recognized as a "position of responsibility" for Eagle finally (the term "leadership position" has been expunged - so apparently the youth will no longer learn to be leaders)

siiiigggghhhh! Sometimes I get discouraged.

5:08 p.m. on December 4, 2009 (EST)
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BS

well gee Bill, a kid could get hurt lighting a fire. I bet they can't use a knife or axe either and probably have to wear OSHA safety glasses while breaking sticks, oh and registered tested kevlar gloves and other appropriate safety gear - leather chaps?

What I wanna know is - can I build that virtual fire on my computer?

Jim S

1:04 a.m. on December 5, 2009 (EST)
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Somehow, I have a feeling that a lot of troops are going to be saying "Wow, nice fire set-up there, now let's see you ligt it." I'm pretty sure ours will.

What would be next? "Demonstrate on this piece of cardboard the proper way to sharpen an axe."

OK, I guess I'm drifing OT.

11:11 p.m. on December 14, 2009 (EST)
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I know the original post posits "well marked trails," but well-marked trails sometimes devolve into something much less comforting. At such times, a compass may make the difference.

An experience I had yesterday illustrates this point. After studying a topo map of a state park that I frequent, I decide to go off-trail and follow a horseshoe-shaped ridge, marked by 5 closely-spaced contour lines on the map, south from a railroad track. The map showed that if I followed the ridge all the way around, after a walk of just over two miles or so I would end up about a quarter mile east of my starting point on the tracks.

The ground was snow-covered and a light rain was falling. I crossed the railroad tracks and followed the ridge southwest. Eventually, the ridge curved to the northeast, as I expected. So far, so good. At one point I noticed that if I cut across a pine grove instead of following the ridge, I could cut several hundred yards off my trip. However, at the end of the pine grove, I came to some thick underbrush and thorn bushes that; in the rain, I decided to just put my head down and bull through. Having done so, I continued my walk until I realized that I could no longer see the ridge, the pine grove, or any other terrain feature that I recognized.

No problem, I'll just reach into my pocket for my map . . . I could have sworn it was in there. Nope.

Still no problem. I knew the railroad tracks were north of me so I'll just face north and head for the tracks, right? Well, I faced what I thought was north, and then decided to pull out the compass to check. Turns out I was facing almost due south.

I decided to follow my tracks in the snow and see where I went wrong. It seems that in my walk through the thick stuff I was making all kinds of crazy turns, and not paying attention because of the rain.

Never any danger: if I had kept walking I would have hit either the ridge or the railroad eventually, hopefully before dark. I did end up about a half-mile east of my starting point. But having the compass, even without the map, showed me that I had made some real navigational error and allowed me to straighten myself out.

As an aside, the map didn't show the complete horseshoe: the bottom was in the neighboring quadrangle, so I was walking off the map. Why can't I ever find a place to hike in the middle of a 7 1/2 minute USGS quadrangle?

12:53 a.m. on December 15, 2009 (EST)
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rexim

you make a good point, if you follow traditional navigation you know where you are and where you've been and as long as you keep knowing where you are youre not going to get lost, probably. But if you screw up and no longer know where you are, then you have violated a basic concept of traditional navigation NEVER GET LOST - STAY FOUND. Being lost isn't the ideal situation in traditional navigation, in fact its the one thing you should never do. At times like that a GPSR, if it works, is worth its weight in gold. A map, an ariel photo, a compass, an altimeter and a GPSR all have their place and some times you wish you had all of them, and the time and common sense to use them and the weather is in your favor. I think we can agree on that, BUT if you are lost, especially if all you have is a compass because you lost your map and everything else, a compass alone is not a magic device that will get you back to your vehicle. My real point to all of this is - teaching people that if they really understand traditional navigation and have a compass, that it will get them unlost is a falsehood. Too many people without great skill read the ten essentials - have a compass and think "hey I'm covered I got a compass" is a problem. Thats why I question its place on the traditional ten essentials list.

Jim S

1:01 p.m. on December 15, 2009 (EST)
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.. Why can't I ever find a place to hike in the middle of a 7 1/2 minute USGS quadrangle?

rexim,

There is a fundamental rule of maps - the location you are planning to go or are actually in requires crossing the boundary of at least one map into the adjacent one, and more than half the time requires all 4 quads to cover the corner you are in (where did you think the term "cornered" came from)?

This was one of the main inspirations for the original Wildflower team that developed Topo! (now a part of National Geographic Maps). They developed the methodology for scanning and seamlessly joining quads so you can print just the map you want. Through-hiking map sets are always printed so that the pages overlap trail sections (of course, that assumes you will stay on the trail, though the AT series does have extensions to the re-supply points).

A problem with printing your own map, though, is that you have to use waterproof paper that binds with the ink from your inkjet printer. I have had the experience of printing a map on plain paper, then getting into the kind of warm snowstorm that Jim S mentions and having the ink run, making the map useless (and also the plain paper falls apart when wet).

10:39 a.m. on December 16, 2009 (EST)
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I recommend always carrying a map (for the area that you are in) and compass, even on well marked trails on day hikes. Mos f my day hikes run long so I always carry enough gear so that I can spend the night if I absolutely have to.

3:56 p.m. on December 16, 2009 (EST)
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Bill:

I like the Topo! software and often use it. However, sometimes I just want to use an old folded USGS map. Of course, its value is lessened if you do what I did and leave it in the car.

11:45 p.m. on December 16, 2009 (EST)
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When hiking anywhere but a city park, carry a compass and a topo map for the area, and learn how to use them. Hint: spray both sides of your map with clear spray paint or other map waterproofing.

If you have a GPS, cool, but learn how to use that too. Like others have said, carry spare batteries.

12:34 a.m. on December 17, 2009 (EST)
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paoconnell,

For a lot of the "city" parks here in the SF Bay Area, you better have that topo map along. Hiking from one end of Foothills Park (which belongs to the City of Palo Alto and is open only to residents and their guests) is 8 miles and a 2300 foot elevation gain - the complete "standard" loop is 19 miles and closer to 2800 feet (you cross 2 ridges). These parks also have a wide variety of wildlife, including mountain lion, bobcat, coyote, and rattlesnakes. There are several dozen other mountainous parks of similar size that are "city" in nature, plus numerous county and regional parks. People get lost and some die every year in these parks, due to lack of preparation and experience (we don' need no map - this is a CITY park!)

10:54 a.m. on December 19, 2009 (EST)
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I've had GPS units fail me, no signal once and a bad bateries the next. I've had a compass change polarity, rendering it useless. I carry both now. As to a map, you can argue you do not need one if on a major trail such as the AT. But, in case of an emergency and you need help really quickly, a map might show you side trails or lesser used trails that would put you into civilization quicker than you might othewise know about. If you run out of gas on the interstate you know exactly where your are. But, which way would you start walking to find the nearest gas station. Of course if you never need a map then they are just extra weight, similar to rain gear.

9:24 p.m. on December 30, 2009 (EST)
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map & compass are a "must have"

I would leave my matches at home before I would leave my map and compass! I will echo the comment about a well marked trail devolving into something less than comfortable. And often we make changes to our plan while hiking.

I went hiking in Alabama's Conecuh Nat'l Forest WITH a map and compass a few years ago. Went cross country through the woods, then picked up a blazed trail. The trail should have did a giant loop. Well, the trail was so big it went miles off my map. I started crossing multiple intersections for other trails (the same trail? Was I going in circles?) and passed through several fenced areas. (The trail clearly went through the gated fence). The little signs that give the trail a name were more confusing than helpful. (Am I crossing Trail X, or am I on Trail X? At what point did I leave Trail Y?)

I wasn't sure if I was headed the right way or I had gotten off track. I set up camp and set out again in the morning. But first I pulled out my map and compass. Even though I was miles off the map, it was immensley helpful and thoroughly comforting. I was a Boy Scout and I knew my compass would never lie, get turned around, or get confused. Sure enough, it led me straight where I wanted to go. Back on the map, back on the trail, and back home quickly.

12:16 p.m. on December 31, 2009 (EST)
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Re: Which compass, Base plate-vs-Lensatic

I have GPS units at my job, and know how to use them. But, I enjoy the challenge of map/compass work getting my location from triangulation practice. People I intersect on trails see my compass attached to the pack strap, not some GPS unit.

I also use an Avocet Vertech altimeter, and an Omron Pocket Pedometer HJ-112 for distance.

Local ranger stations love to photo copy my maps that I mark up with bearings + mileage marks.

I currently use an older Silva Ranger, reviews all say the older model better made than newer models. I have been happy with it, but know that it is not as accurate, and slower than a good lensatic.

Reading good reviews on compasses, I am looking at upgrading to a Cammenga 3HCS Official US military Tritium Lensatic Compass.

- review: http://www.cammenga.com/pdf_assets/TonyWilks_CAMMENGA_LENSATIC_UK.pdf

Though the $90.00 price is high, quality-over-quantity is my shopping theory.

Any thoughts?

9:34 p.m. on December 31, 2009 (EST)
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CAL-EE:

There are several considerations you should keep in mind before springing the mucho dollars for the Cammenga. First, the Kjelstroms designed the base-plate compass, which is the family of compass designs to which the Silva Ranger belongs, to overcome several shortcomings of lensatic compasses. More on this later. Second, the original Silva Ranger (the ones from Silva of Sweden, imported by JWA for many years until the trademark disputes between JWA and Silva) will settle just as rapidly as the Cammenga, contrary to your statement. Early Silva baseplate compasses used induction for damping, just as the Cammenga does, but Silva found that liquid damping works better (compare to a good orienteering competition compass to see how fast and stable liquid damping can be). Third, the lifetime of the tritium capsule is only about 12-13 years (do you know how long the one you buy has been on the shelf? Have you checked on replacement capsules - you will be using your compass for 20-30 years or more, my Silva Ranger having served me well for over 40 years, while my genuine US Army-issue lensatic has sat gathering dust in the drawer since within 4 or 5 years after I got it). Fourth, although you can read bearings rapidly (essential for the artillery usage for which the lensatic design was intended), you have to write them down immediately. You can not set the compass as you can one with a rotating bezel, like the Ranger and all baseplate compasses have. Note that the Ranger and other compasses of the general baseplate design can also be used easily as protractors for map work without having to first orient the map. While you can do that with a lensatic, it is awkward at best - much easier with a baseplate compass.

One other limitation of the lensatic compass (including the Cammenga) is that you cannot set the local declination. So you have to do the arithmetic to go between the compass and the map (drawn to true north for US and most other nations' mapping services, and grid north for the Ordnance Survey and a few other countries' mapping services). With the Ranger and some other baseplate compasses, there is a built-in adjustment that you can set for local declination. For me, and probably for you, since you use map and compass a lot, this is no big deal. It is a quick conversion in your head. But some people have a lot of trouble understanding supposedly helpful phrases like "East is least and West is best".

Both Silva and Suunto make excellent sighting compasses (you sight through them, not like the mirror compasses like the Ranger) that are as precise as as the workhorse Brunton Pocket Transit (which means more precise than the lensatic compasses). However, unless you are doing survey-grade work, a baseplate compass is more than precise enough, as well as being more than accurate enough ("precise" and "accurate" are different qualities, both being important). The biggest limitation is the user, in all cases.

As TomM said way back up the screen, a simple baseplate compass is more than enough for the vast majority of backcountry travel. I have a whole collection of simple and advanced compasses, including several orienteering competition compasses (both baseplate and thumb) and a "Mecca" compass. It is rare that I use anything more than the north end of the needle (and that is during something like 6 decades of compass use from 80 deg north to 80 deg south, and on 6 continents).

11:02 p.m. on December 31, 2009 (EST)
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CAL-EE :

"Cammenga 3HCS Official US military Tritium Lensatic Compass."


Hey CAL-EE,

I backpack sometimes with a couple U.S. Marine friends, they use Tritium Lensatics and can get just as lost as I can!

I prefer the long straight edge on the base plate compasses for map work, it just makes it easier for me to draw lines and stuff.

I use a Suunto MC-1 , cost 60.00 bucks when I bought it, and it is overkill for 80% of what I do.

A base plate, with set and forget declination, is all you really need. I saw a Silva for $24.00 today. I'm gonna get one myself.

8:08 a.m. on January 1, 2010 (EST)
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Re: compasses-will stick to my loved Silva

Well, GREAT responses!


I do love my Silva! I have learned to site, measure, trail hunt with it, without fault. Just a little time to take an accurate bearing, I sometimes "shoot the bearing" of a 1-3 reference site, but it adds to my ability to get duplicate results, confirming the accurate reading.


Also, will save me $90 to spend at REI!


Again, thanks for the responses!

4:58 p.m. on February 14, 2010 (EST)
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I'm unsure what the EDGE method for tying knots is, and am further confused by why BSA has a copyright on the method. If it's that good, drop the copyright, because someone's life could depend on tying a knot correctly.

I learned the required knots when I was a Tenderfoot (early 60s) through a lot of practice. I later became a caver, and learned how to tie those knots (and some caving/climbing knots) in the dark.

On compasses: Silva/Brunton style compasses with the flat plastic plate (the kind most Scouts use, incidentally) are easiest to use. They still require practice with a map.

8:59 p.m. on February 14, 2010 (EST)
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"EDGE" = Explain, Demonstrate, Guide, Enable

As I learned when I first became a university professor and had to teach Physics 101, you don't really understand a subject until you can teach it yourself. The idea of the requirement for teaching knots for a Tenderfoot is that when he can teach someone else how to tie the knots, he understands it himself (and won't forget it for the rest of his life.

It always amazes me the number of things I think I know, then have to really learn because I have to teach them to someone else. One of my undergrad professors, Richard Feynman, said that you don't understand physics (or any other topic) until you can walk up to a random person on the street and explain it to them so they can understand the concepts.

10:45 p.m. on February 14, 2010 (EST)
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It's a well-aged adage that to really learn something, one should teach it. And that certainly goes for backcountry navigation. But that said, it somehow doesn't account for bad instructors/instruction. I've seen plenty of both--including some on this very topic.

A hiker well-trained and well-practiced with whatever piece of good equipment suitable to the task will be fine. There are drawbacks to all.

One word of caution about the new Silva compasses. Over the last year or so, I've handled lots of their product, and have been uniformly unimpressed. The quality of the typical "Silva" compass is nowhere near what it used to be, in my recent experience. (And I say this with a touch of sadness, having great fondness for the old Silva Ranger.) Brunton and Suunto both put out good product at present, and for quite reasonable prices.

If you're interested in the Cammenga, and worried about tritium life, the production date is stamped on the product. They also make a non-tritium version. Either, of course, continues to function quite adequately as a compass even if it loses its nighttime glow.

A compass does NOT need every bell and whistle. It needs to reliably point to magnetic north, be suitably marked for heading/bearing determination, and appropriately dampened to facilitate use. Add in some durability, and the basics are there. All else is convenience, of one degree or another.

12:26 a.m. on February 15, 2010 (EST)
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Be Prepared

Back in the early 1800s, the Tates Watch Company of Massachusetts wanted to produce other products and, since they already made the cases for pocket watches, decided to market compasses for the pioneers traveling west. It turned out that although their watches were of the finest quality; their compasses were so bad that people often ended up in Canada or Mexico rather than California. This, of course, is the origin of the expression, "He who has a Tates is lost!"

Bad equipment or choosing wrong kind of gear is just as bad having none at all. Bad training of how to use the proper gear is just as bad as no training at all.

Be Prepared with the proper equipment and training.

9:45 a.m. on February 15, 2010 (EST)
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Being interested in odd facts and stories with punch lines like "He who has a Tates...", I Googled Tates Watch Company and found the same anecdote, under "My Little Sister's Interesting Facts", at http://www.emmitsburg.net/humor/archives/interesting_facts/interesting_facts_6.htm . Also listed there (and from the same contributor, "Dave from Bolder" <sic>, were multiple off-label uses for WD-40, including use as a fish attractant and a room deodorant, as well as a treatment for fire ant bites.

The site includes other "interesting facts", too, such as "When you sneeze...if you keep your eyes open by force, they can pop out." And "No NFL team which plays its home games in a domed stadium has ever won a Super Bowl." (Somebody tell Drew Brees! And Peyton Manning, for that matter.) I was also entertained by the claim that Heinz (famous for pickles, catsup, and maintaining John Kerry's hair) produced, from 1937-45, "Alphabetic Spaghetti" for the German market consisting solely of "little pasta swastikas". Also fun is the fact that on that one page there are competing claims for the shortest sentence in English: "I do/I am." And "Go." I wondered about "Be".

Sadly, in the few brief searches I did, I couldn't find that the Tates Watch Co. of Massachusetts ever existed. But I suppose I could've spelled "Massachusettes" wrong.

Well, now that we've gotten well off course....

1:30 p.m. on February 15, 2010 (EST)
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Perry,

"Silva" compasses sold in North America are not made by Silva (Sweden). The trademark for North America is held by Johnson Worldwide Associates (which changed their corporate name recently). JWA was founded as what I would call a "hobby" by S. C. Johnson who controlled Johnson Wax. He was an outdoor enthusiast who had collected several companies making outdoor products (Eureka tents, Jack Wolfskin, Camp Trails, Old Town canoes, ScubaPro and SnorkelPro dive gear...).

Originally, under an agreement with the Kjellstroms, who founded and are still the primary owners of Silva (Sweden), Johnson marketed the Silva compasses here (not that the name "Silva" is from the Latin for "woods" or "trees", hence the tree symbol). In the 1980s, Silva had become large enough, and Bjorn Kjellstrom (author of the best Map and Compass book to this day, IMO) had passed away, so Silva wanted to take over the distribution of their compasses world wide. Silva also bought Brunton, the top compass maker in the US (including the famous Brunton Pocket Transit). Court actions ensued, with the settlement being that JWA kept the Silva trademark for North America, but Silva no longer supplies their compasses. Instead, Suunto produces the JWA Silva compasses.

Now, since Suunto and Silva produce the best orienteering compasses in the world (plus top quality survey instruments), you would expect that the JWA "Silva" line would continue to be top quality. But apparently JWA has started sourcing from Asia, which may explain your findings.

For a while, Silva (Sweden) was distributing their orienteering and land navigation compasses under one of their survey names, Nexus (one of my thumb compasses has a Nexus label). I am under the impression from some comments by the Brunton rep at the Outdoor Retailer Winter Show a couple weeks ago that Brunton and Silva (Sweden) may have parted ways, though the rep was not very clear on this.

I personally have genuine Silva (Sweden) compasses via JWA (including one made for Boy Scouts of America that uses induction damping), Brunton (including a Southern Hemisphere Zone 5 Ranger), and directly from Silva in Sweden, plus Suunto compasses (and "wrist computers" - Suunto is in Finland, by the way) and 2 pre-Silva Brunton compasses (one a Southern Hemisphere, Zone 5 Australian model). --- hmmm, wonder how many Trailspace readers know what the difference is for the various zones or for a Southern Hemisphere compass?

1:54 p.m. on February 15, 2010 (EST)
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Bill--

I think what you report supports my observations. Since the vast majority of items carrying the Silva label that the typical outdoor consumer here in the U.S. will encounter are, it appears, procured from Asian (i.e., non-Swedish-Silva) sources, it's not surprising that the quality I see is NOT typical of what I used to expect from the Silva name. (NOT a knock on Asia workmanship in general. Let's move on.)

I'd not followed the detailed ins and outs of who bought whom, etc., but based on the quality of readily available compasses in the current market, I'd still stand by my comments. I think it a tremendous shame that Silva US, or Silva NA, or Silva JWA, or whatever they want to call themselves, did not keep to the same level of quality. Interesting that Suunto--whose products I still respect--is apparently responsible for the Silva JWA operations and the decision to source the products from Asia. No doubt someone's bottom line improved, at least transiently, but it will make it tough for Silva to regain its former status here in the US.

As for zones/hemisphere distinctions, I'm not gonna hazard a guess as to how many folks know what you're talking about. I did run across a good synopsis of the subject a while back, can't recall where, however. Generally speaking, though, I'm happy if the person I'm training understands how to use one (a compass, that is) in their own backyard.

5:27 p.m. on April 14, 2010 (EDT)
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I recently bought a Cammenga for under $50 from Amazon, and purchased the phosphorescent model. The shelf life of the phosphorescent features last about 5 years longer, per my conversation with a Cammenga customer service rep. Considering I haven't "charged" mine on a regular basis as I have not gone out night hiking, I believe it will last much longer than that. I did lots of research on which compass to get and felt that the $50 over even 10 years (I expect to get double life) was a great investment given the quality and durability and reliability of the item.


I'm wonder now how conducive the cammenga is to the orienteering sport, though.

12:27 p.m. on April 15, 2010 (EDT)
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I'm wonder now how conducive the cammenga is to the orienteering sport, though.

Lensatic compasses are totally unsuited to orienteering as a sport for a whole list of reasons. Even the military guys who come out for the meets do not use them. They use baseplate and thumb compasses made for orienteering, like everyone else. There are a lot of reasons for the unsuitability, not the least being that they are heavy and very slow to use.

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