Is it stil worth carrying a compass?

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Oliver G

Forager
Sep 15, 2012
246
133
Melbourne, Derbyshire
Given the life of modern phone batteries I tend to just plot a route on the OS map and go, the only time I'll use a compass is if I've decided I'm getting rusty and want to brush up a bit.

That being said, I'll always carry a map and compass if I've going more than 5 miles, I would be mortified if I had to call for help and couldn't say where I am.
 

TinkyPete

Full Member
Sep 4, 2009
1,900
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uk mainly in the Midlands though
Being an old Mapric. On my normal outdoor activities I carry a compass, but I also understand why some people say "Oh don't need a compass, in these modern times I have my phone/Satnav etc.!".

That is ok if you keep it safe in a shatterproof case, extra power, and in the phones case, it is a Sat phone and you don't walk in woods or deep valleys, and only realistically do short short walks or and regular signposted routes. But is is still tech and tech stuff is more likely to fail than a compass.

Under current restrictions, my walks have been on routes that I know very well, and along some streets so I do not take a compass, but once this situation is over I hope to go to wilder areas and some trips abroad. I will have at least one compass with me, but more normally two (sometimes more). The main compass is always a Silva or Suunto, my back up may be another Silva or Suunto, but I also use smaller compasses such as other make orienting compasses or even down to the BCB small baseplate survival compass. I have also used clipper or watch style compasses which are good aids. I have quite a few baseplate compasses as well as quite a few sighting compasses so I have a good selection. For most people a simple baseplate compass is good enough and the Silva are very reasonable. A Silva Classic is normally just over £10, A type 4 military one is about £25. My military lensatic compass which cost a lot more over £100, and I still get it calibrated.

I also use natural indictors to aid my navigation aids, but if you walk in large expanse of wild areas, you need to make accurate directions and most often bearings, for example being out by 2 degrees and walk 10 miles and you are going to be out by 0.34 miles. if you do not have a compass, it is very easy to be out by 10 degrees that would be 1.7 miles out. If you need to hit a crossing point or meet someone that is more walking. If you are just bimbling it is not a problem. over days or weeks of walking in unfamiliar terrain or if weather comes in. It can be a life and death situation especially if walking near cliffs or rivers.

I have also used ottoman sun compasses, stick ray method and a lot of other methods in trying to find out cardinal directions ok if you what to try stuff out and learn more about the natural world and how it effected by time of year. There is a lot to learn about navigation and compass work is only a small part of it. I do use my compass less and less as I try to hone other skills, but not taking one is asking for mistakes to happen.
 
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Madriverrob

Native
Feb 4, 2008
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Whitby , North Yorkshire
I use OS maps on my phone but always carry a map and compass with me , as well as being able to use the compass , competent map reading skills are also really useful ….. we would need map and compass to get around in a post apocalyptic world …….
 
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MartiniDave

Bushcrafter (boy, I've got a lot to say!)
Aug 29, 2003
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I still use my little base-plate compass. It is so much more than just a compass, having both a rule and a handy lens too. Saves me keep getting my specs out of the rucksack.
 

Paul_B

Bushcrafter (boy, I've got a lot to say!)
Jul 14, 2008
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Lancashire
I know two very experienced climbers and hikers (does that make them mountaineers? ) who fell through a cornice despite believing themselves to be 100m+ away from the edge on a plateau. They had poor visibility so were using compass bearing to navigate, counting steps and all that. Great! But no! There was a strong cross wind that blew them unknowingly towards the edge despite them following the bearing. They survived but scared themselves. When they got back to their wives apparently they were still white with fear and possibly cold. But they gave them a big hug and their partners knew something had happened but now wasn't the time to ask.

They were both summer ML and possibly winter ML too. One guy was in training to do mont blanc by an interesting route. So they were very experienced but still got into trouble with just map and compass.

Imho that shows why redundancy is good in the outdoors. If you use a map and compass take modern tech too. If you prefer modern tech then take and use traditional kit as well. A simple GPS with a gr would have let them know they're not where they thought they were.
 

TinkyPete

Full Member
Sep 4, 2009
1,900
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uk mainly in the Midlands though
Paul,

You do make a good point, tech especially an accurate GPS is easy to read and get a result, but they also can be inaccurate as well. if you only have a satellite link with 2 satellites you can be over 100m out. It comes down to reading your equipment accurately in the those conditions whether it be old or new tech.

I have GPSs' including a SATMAP and Garmin devices, but I do not purely rely on them (with them all I always carry a map and compass), especially in mountainous terrain. I have twice stopped groups walking off the edge of Ben Nevis and plummeting to the deaths with groups I have been with. When you get a white out of the fog or cloud comes down, the best advice is stop, get some shelter and get a brew on. In dangerous conditions and dangerous situations, dangerous and disastrous things can easily happen (and more likely to), there is only so much you can mitigate.

Training and understanding are the best methods, backed up with kit and equipment.
 

Suffolkrafter

Forager
Dec 25, 2019
128
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Suffolk
I like to use both electronic (locus map) and compass in unison. Phone sat nav does an amazing job of telling me where I am. But I then prefer using the compass to follow a bearing, particularly in bad weather or with gloves, when I don't want to keep unlocking a phone etc.
Half the reason I get out is to get away from phones and screens so staring at a phone map defeats the object somewhat.
 
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Paul_B

Bushcrafter (boy, I've got a lot to say!)
Jul 14, 2008
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Lancashire
Paul,

You do make a good point, tech especially an accurate GPS is easy to read and get a result, but they also can be inaccurate as well. if you only have a satellite link with 2 satellites you can be over 100m out. It comes down to reading your equipment accurately in the those conditions whether it be old or new tech.

I have GPSs' including a SATMAP and Garmin devices, but I do not purely rely on them (with them all I always carry a map and compass), especially in mountainous terrain. I have twice stopped groups walking off the edge of Ben Nevis and plummeting to the deaths with groups I have been with. When you get a white out of the fog or cloud comes down, the best advice is stop, get some shelter and get a brew on. In dangerous conditions and dangerous situations, dangerous and disastrous things can easily happen (and more likely to), there is only so much you can mitigate.

Training and understanding are the best methods, backed up with kit and equipment.
Training and understanding let those two I used to know end up nearly being a statistic in a Scottish MRT's annual reports. Knowing limitations and having alternative means of location all helps. Anyone who only takes and uses one at any one time could potentially get into difficulties no matter how experienced you are.
 
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I think it's a fair question. While I am tempted to scream really......

When I think about it, my answer is both simple and a little complex at the same time.

With the advances in technology the old compass does seem a bit obsolete. I carry a compass as it'sthe same compass that I used in the military and trust it implicitly. I also carry a GPS, although in my case i use this as a back up and to varify my assessment of my location on the map against what my GPS says.

I have had my GPS fail on me a few times, mainly for dead batteries, as i failed to anticipate just how quickly the cold would deplete them, then it does not work that great in dense tree cover nor in caves, while my good old silver compass does.

I know the GPS is a lot more simpler to use, but for me personally my compassis my primary navigation device.
 

santaman2000

M.A.B (Mad About Bushcraft)
Jan 15, 2011
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my grandfather spent a short time after the war as a P.O.W. -- i inherited some of his stuff (although i'm afraid it's lost due to the fact that my "dear" european relatives have likely thrown it out by now... :( ) incl. the compass he smuggled through the controls between his toes (ironically the compass was from an allied escape kit although my grandfather wasn't a member of them...) --- i challenge anyone to smuggle their gsp receiver to the controls (in a prison or similar circumstance) :p
As a retired corrections officer I can assure you in,ages find ways to smuggle smart phones in every day. Past x-rays, past metal detectors, past strip searches: they still get them in.
 

Bishop

Full Member
Jan 25, 2014
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Inside the wire, Llanelli
Over the last decade there has been a worrying shift towards software as a service with electronic gadgets. So in terms of durability, reliability, value for money, carbon footprint, eco-friendlyness and oddly enough security then it's hard to beat even a party cracker compass with a half decent map. True GPS on a good day is accurate about 3ft then again so is a good sighting compass, just takes a little longer to plot the bearings.
 

Tiley

Full Member
Oct 19, 2006
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Gloucestershire
Although it was a little while ago now and I'm sure things have improved, I did a little 'test' to see how accurate my recently purchased GPS was. I was alone, in the Lake District in January. The visibility was occasional and fleeting - only when the snow and thick cloud lifted for a moment. Using a map and compass, I walked up to the top of Great Gable. I knew exactly where I was - right next to the Fell and Rock Climbing Club War Memorial, a feature marked on the map - and I had a look at the GPS. It put me at a point some 50 metres away which, on the ground, was over a vertical drop. Needless to say, I was not impressed: if I had relied on the GPS that day, I could have ended up in all sorts of trouble; thankfully, the tried-and-tested equipment, along with a little navigating skill, got me to the top and down again safely.

It is when one is 'lost' and therefore under a certain amount of duress that one relies on equipment to help you out and clarify where you are. Although by no means 'lost', if I had relied on the GPS or hadn't had a map, its inaccuracy would have added to my confusion and worsened the situation. I have not used the device since.

Although more modern devices are, I'm sure, more accurate and reliable, they are also easy and fun to use. This increases reliance on them and pushes the trad. nav. skills into the background. But the devices, however good, rely on battery power and, in some examples, are not too great when the weather is wholly against you - perhaps the very time when one most needs them. If they fail you then, your safety can become dependent on luck, rather than judgement.

By all means carry a device but make very sure that you also carry the relevant map and compass and, perhaps most importantly, know how to use those last two confidently and accurately. they could just save your life.
 

TLM

Native
Nov 16, 2019
1,449
625
Vantaa, Finland
Hmm.. a compass and a GPS receiver do not really provide equivalent functionality. A compass shows the direction of Earths magnetic field that often can be used as geographic north (or south). A GPS gives coordinates in the WGS84 earth coordinate reference system, an electronic map that is mostly shown must have the same reference system set. A GPS does not show directions on a point, if it does it either has a flux gate compass installed or it uses the last movement which in some cases is quite misleading.

Both can be used for navigating but one needs slightly different skills to use them properly.

A GPS alone can very well be compared to celestial navigation without compass and maybe charts added.
 
As a retired corrections officer I can assure you in,ages find ways to smuggle smart phones in every day. Past x-rays, past metal detectors, past strip searches: they still get them in.
it's a long time since i read "papillon" but remembering how they smuggled money into prison i better don't ask HOW they smuggle phones etc. nowadays... :p
 
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Paul_B

Bushcrafter (boy, I've got a lot to say!)
Jul 14, 2008
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Lancashire
Although more modern devices are, I'm sure, more accurate and reliable, they are also easy and fun to use. This increases reliance on them and pushes the trad. nav. skills into the background. But the devices, however good, rely on battery power and, in some examples, are not too great when the weather is wholly against you - perhaps the very time when one most needs them. If they fail you then, your safety can become dependent on luck, rather than judgement.
The bit I put in bold interested me, sorry but I snipped a bit out I hope that's ok.

The reason I put that in bold was because of the example I gave of two MLs, one possibly winter ML, who used traditional map and compass on a Scottish hill to get off in full, low visibility winter conditions. The ones who misjudged the effect of a strong crosswind resulting in falling through a cornice. It was a case of luck they survived. Luck is often underestimated in the outdoors especially with adverse conditions. Judgement wasn't lacking with those two because the wind, winter conditions and terrain caused the potentially fatal accident.

Could a GPS have saved them? Well one had a latest model GPS but left it in his sack. They were kicking themselves that they never used it. Their view based on experience both before the incident and from the incident gave them a strong conviction that the best form of navigation uses map, compass and GPS.

I suspect the full potential of a modern GPS unit isn't fully realised by most people. They've become so user friendly that people haven't had to really learn how to use them. I guess the compass is similar. It points north and you've got bearings marked on the bezel. Easy right? Learning how to use a compass well along with a map is something your are likely taking a lifetime to get right. I know I am. Do you not think that could be the same for a GPS unit?

There's a company that sells GPS, compasses and even maps as a side company. They're also guides and trainers in outdoor skills like navigation. If you buy a GPS from them you get free access to their password protected training area online. This apparently has training attempts on map and compass plus ones on using GPS. They also run courses. It seems whilst most people think they know how to use a GPS unit the reality is we've probably not much further than getting it out of the box and turned on compared to what it can really do for your navigation.

Imho they're all tools that have uses. I decide what I want to use and when according to my needs. I do not feel the need to limit myself by sticking with compass or GPS on artificial reasons such as one is more reliable than the other. Reality there are strengths and weaknesses to traditional and modern. You simply have to learn how to use either system and both systems preferably. Not many do that.
 

Paul_B

Bushcrafter (boy, I've got a lot to say!)
Jul 14, 2008
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Lancashire
But within that simplicity are numerous techniques that increase usefulness of both technologies.
 
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santaman2000

M.A.B (Mad About Bushcraft)
Jan 15, 2011
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@forrstdweller Yes they still use that method to smuggle contraband but the x-rays should defeat it. Now they also often have an outside accomplice use a drone after dark to drop it in the rec yard or some similar tactic.
 

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