Is it stil worth carrying a compass?

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Tiley

Full Member
Oct 19, 2006
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Gloucestershire
It was a case of luck they survived. 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?

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 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.
I, too, am sorry to have cut-and-pasted your full response but it does afford me a chance to discuss your observations.

I remember when I did both my ML and Winter ML courses and assessments, the navigation instructors at The Lodge were very careful to point out the hazards of a cross-wind and the effect that it can have on your walking and navigation, particularly when on rough terrain. When visibility is compromised, as it obviously was in the case of the two about which you speak, it is even more important to pay very close attention, particularly if you know that there are drops nearby.

I'm not sure that a GPS could have saved them. Although my experience of the GPS technology is very limited, I am aware that, in poor weather, the devices struggle to latch on to satellite signals, thus compromising the accuracy of their locating abilities. Would such a device steered them away from the cornice? Possibly...

Like any skill that we use in the outdoors, time spent honing it and perfecting it is an integral part of the pleasure these activities afford us. We will probably never be 'perfect' but the joy of improving is most definitely worthwhile. I would love to get hold of a good GPS and learn how to use it properly and effectively; as you say, learning about both the trad. and modern systems gives us many more options in the outdoors and narrows the chances of our making mistakes. When time and cash permit...

Yes, there are also occasions when 'luck' has been a lifesaver but I would hate to rely on it. For all the shortcomings of any navigational system - think, here, about a compass's weird behaviour when on gabbro on Skye... - they do have the effect of rationalising your thinking at a time when conditions and stress may blur your judgement.
 

Paul_B

Bushcrafter (boy, I've got a lot to say!)
Jul 14, 2008
4,948
863
Lancashire
In their case they were aware of cross winds but it's effects were a lot greater than predicted. IIRC it was a sloping plateau and the high point was the cornice with a significant distance to the cornice when they started the bearing. No idea why they didn't make adequate correction for wind but I guess tiredness plays a part in a lot of errors.

GPS in its basic user gives a grid reference to 8 or even 10 units however they're not that accurate. IME bad weather hasn't had much effect on my ancient gps60 Garmin GPS. I've been at the top of summits I know well and the gr given by my GPS has been pretty spot on in really atrocious weather. Even at trig points. That's an ancient GPS but has the better quad helix antenna. Now the sirf ones are even better. They do more too.

IMHO those two with a GPS checked against the map is likely to indicate their 50m+ drift on the bearing. I've followed a bearing and spotted I was going off bearing using my GPS a few times before. You just need it to hand.

IMHO this debate over what is best is pretty pointless because they're different kit and not really comparable. They all have their uses which TBH compliment each other. Why would you not have and use both of they're available? Do you leave your woollie hat behind because you have a hood on your fleece or hard shell? What about liner gloves because you've got shell gloves?
 

Tiley

Full Member
Oct 19, 2006
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Gloucestershire
The debate was originally over whether we carry a compass all the time and whether it was worth it. Personally, I do and I do.

But I am beginning to see the use of a GPS as an additional help and I like the layering analogy for navigational tools. It makes perfect sense. If it doesn't weigh you down unduly and you know how to use it, it's definitely worth taking, like the woolly hat. It's a bit like the 'two heads are better than one' scenario and gives you another option for when you 'lose track of where you are'. I could even get to know how to use it and what it can do during lock-down!

Hmmm. I have a birthday creeping up on me; I wonder if her ladyship would stretch to getting me a GPS?
 
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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.
drones have gotten somewhat smaller since "papillon's" days... :p :p and more difficult to detect and stop

edit: a friend's drone got recently attacked by a hawk -- maybe that would work... :p
 
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Paul_B

Bushcrafter (boy, I've got a lot to say!)
Jul 14, 2008
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Lancashire
I got my old GPS out during lockdown to locate local geocache that's on the route of our lockdown daily exercise last year? Apparently there was a geocacheb function on it but you needed a special connection cable with a very weird plug. Never got it and probably couldn't now? So I made a manual waypoint and still b couldn't n find it b despite it being a very easy one to find?

We nearly got a new one for for geocaching and also for attaching to our bike for touring holidays. Decided to save our money. I think you need to spend a lot for a good one to truly gain the benefits. If I do I'll probably buy from that company that also does training courses in navigation so I can access their training notes. Apparently they're really good for really learning what your model of GPS can achieve.
 

Silverclaws2

Forager
Dec 30, 2019
171
91
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Devon
Carry a compass, yeah even with GPS I would and why well various have already explained why but compasses aren't heavy and it's often I carry two, my spare being an old Silva type 5 Induction damped compass in case I should happen to pop the capsule on my Recta DS 50G. And besides how many GPS units have a mirror of which finds more use than just in sighting operations.
 

fenix

Forager
Jul 8, 2008
117
84
Kent
I got my old GPS out during lockdown to locate local geocache that's on the route of our lockdown daily exercise last year? Apparently there was a geocacheb function on it but you needed a special connection cable with a very weird plug. Never got it and probably couldn't now? So I made a manual waypoint and still b couldn't n find it b despite it being a very easy one to find?

We nearly got a new one for for geocaching and also for attaching to our bike for touring holidays. Decided to save our money. I think you need to spend a lot for a good one to truly gain the benefits. If I do I'll probably buy from that company that also does training courses in navigation so I can access their training notes. Apparently they're really good for really learning what your model of GPS can achieve.
If its for occasional use I would just use a smartphone, the GPS on them is pretty good and they tend to have newer chips than an old model stand alone GPS. You can download geocaching apps, use a free mapping app, or one of the paid for apps. I have an old Garmin etrex somewhere, but haven't used it for something like 10 years. You can pickup a band new smartphone for around £100, you should be able to get a 2nd hand one for £50.
 
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Laurentius

Native
Aug 13, 2009
1,980
273
Knowhere
I always like to carry a compass even if it is just a very basic one. It is a myth to say they are only useful with maps, I have used one to orient myself in the middle of London, you can also use it to set a bearing and keep to it when you are in fog or in the middle of a wood and can't find the edge of it, it always helps to know if you are going in the right direction.
 

Broch

Full Member
Jan 18, 2009
4,526
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Mid Wales
I just came across a nice, and relevant, comment in the navigation section of Tom Sheppard's Vehicle-Dependent Expedition Guide:

"Let 'north' into your life. Carry a tiny compass in your pocket; use it like worry beads - and subliminally to soak up where north is all the time. Think of all that magnetism going to waste."
Great book :)
Have you read 'Quiet for a Tuesday'?
(please excuse temporary OT chat!)
 

minds_eye

Full Member
Aug 30, 2011
217
17
South West UK
A couple of years or two back I did a guided solstice mountain walk with a group. The leader was ML , a senior member of the local mountain rescue and sounded relatively accomplished. I was quite surprised when he said he nearly always used the electronic kit and 'they all had a subscription to OS on their phones'. I don't doubt he had one squirrelled away but it was a bit of a surprise, if I'm honest. I guess its a lot easier that faffing around on the hill.

I have to admit, it's a while since I did anything that I felt I needed a good map and compass, stretching mostly to guide books these days but if I'm doing anything I feel the need to carry a bag for (e.g. changeable conditions, might need a torch etc) I've got a little Suunto watch strap compass clipped to one of the straps somewhere, as well as a whistle and a small light (that I recently discovered doesn't work anymore).

Whilst I'd not really want to use the Suunto as a primary source of navigation, it's certainly good enough / large enough to do that and I quite often I find myself using it very quickly to orient a guide book or myself to noticeboard map. Furthermore, Google Maps on my phone unlike my fancy GPS, often seems to get a little turned around as to which direction I'm facing so I find it's good having a quick backup.
 

Robson Valley

Full Member
Nov 24, 2014
8,871
1,788
McBride, BC
We use maps and compass. Many of the more interesting mountain valleys are so narrow that GPS can't see for crap. No possible iPhone links, either. Even in autumn, a blizzard can hit you in 5 minutes and the visibility is 50 yards. I posted some nice summer and winter pictures of my district just today.

I've needed a compass in a blizzard to get out. Long ago deer hunting by myself. Didn't pay attention to the landscape, got turned around and then the storm. Original steel-cased Recta Prospector from 1965.

Bubble grew and grew so used the advice of Field & Stream Magazine's gear tests ( "The Best of the Best") to buy a Brunton Eclipse 8066. It's always in my vest, never in any coat or pack. Sure enough, autumn but dense fog this time. Got me turned to the nearest road then it's just a matter of walking down hill.

My grandsons turned 6 last October. Good compass and fair binocs each.
 
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Danceswithhelicopters

Full Member
Sep 7, 2004
465
37
Scotland
I think a lot of people get put off compass by how it is taught. Lessons get called "compass work", nobody likes work. Faffing with mnemonics, declination, pacing, accuracy to the milliradian etc.

We've successfully made an object that points north complex, scary and difficult.

I've been around the hills and skies using compasses and maps a fair while and have seen people argue with me on which way their compass is pointing, freezing to bits whilst someone goes through some palaver on grid to mag and mag to grid, time-wasting calculatung declination sub single degree, taking bearings in a Glen that only goes one way for the next 15 miles and going on a bearing ignoring the lovely path that will eventually come on to your heather soaked foray.

I could go on but the lovely comment further up the thread :

I just came across a nice, and relevant, comment in the navigation section of Tom Sheppard's Vehicle-Dependent Expedition Guide:

"Let 'north' into your life. Carry a tiny compass in your pocket; use it like worry beads - and subliminally to soak up where north is all the time. Think of all that magnetism going to waste."

That reminded me of how I actually use a compass after all the courses I've done and how I've passed on my best practice to sons, scouts, wife and friends.

There was an episode in that great series The Wire where the Police Commander opens his drawer filled with simple toy compasses and tosses it to the new recruits with the refrain know where you are and where you're running, North, South, East or West.

So, throw away the books but carry a compass and keep flipping it out as you walk. Get a feel where north is, get a rough feel on which way you are going but keep it to hand, orient your body so you face north, look left and right and over your shoulder for what is in the distance and register that as your personal compass rose. Stop stopping and faffing, have a small compass in your pocket or rucksack or watch strap and keep peeking at it. Keep it simple, don't sweat the degrees, you can't walk or navigate to any real accuracy across rough ground but you can continually update your brain.

I am also reminded of what a dive instructor sees as the sign of a good diver... When he/she signals for how much air you have left a good diver doesn't look down at their gauge... They've been looking at it unbidden the whole dive and knows within reasonable accuracy where they sit.

So, in conclusion, yes, compasses are surely still relevant in this modern age but embrace the simple arrow that points North, do it often, quietly and enjoy knowing where your head is in the outdoors.
 

Seagull

Settler
Jul 16, 2004
828
52
Gåskrikki North Lincs
I've waited quite a while to come in on this thread...something to do with the to-ing and fro-ing of instances and incidents, those many right and true stacked sheafs of what happened. or could have...on which I have no comment to make.
But I will relate that the compasses with which I am most familiar , are ships magnetic compasses, that, due to size and weight, I wouldn't want to lug around anyway.
It was my passion, whenever possible, over the many years, to take great pleasure in the old ritual of observing the compass error , terrestrially or celestially , then writing up the results in the compass logbook...taking pains, as seemed fitting, to script it in as near old copperplate was I could get.

In post 13, Billy-O, in referring to map and compass, says, " It gives you the odd sense of ownership of where you are and how you got there"
He also mentioned a , "one to one sensibility"...and , for myself, both comments describe exactly, the feeling of verifying the moment and of being well grounded in one's own place and time.
Are compasses worth it?....of course they are ,

And sine amp, will forever equal sine dec.sec lat.

Regards all
Ceeg
 
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Laurentius

Native
Aug 13, 2009
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Knowhere
I think a lot of people get put off compass by how it is taught. Lessons get called "compass work", nobody likes work. Faffing with mnemonics, declination, pacing, accuracy to the milliradian etc.
The only compass lesson I can remember was a high school geography lesson, it was summer and it was outdoors. We were lucky that raised ground afforded views for miles around, and we were taught how to take bearings on various landmarks. I thought it was rather cool as I had only ever thought of a compass as something that pointed to the North before then.
 
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Tonyuk

Settler
Nov 30, 2011
911
62
Scotland
Both are useful, and I carry both often on larger hikes.

But if you plan to go anywhere remote, you would be stupid to not carry a proper map, compass and measure, and train yourself in their use.
 

Paul_B

Bushcrafter (boy, I've got a lot to say!)
Jul 14, 2008
4,948
863
Lancashire
We've made a device that points north sound scary!? Love that! It points to magnetic north. If you don't need to know that then don't get or carry one. I think you're wrong in certain activities but we all have our opinions. How can really argue about opinions when any one of them could be right at the same time.
 

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