Hiking and backpacking are both activities that require a basic knowledge of navigation, especially if you plan to go on multi-day trips into forest or covered terrain where landmarks are not easily distinguishable. While GPS units have become useful tools for this type of navigation, understanding how to use a compass is essential to survival if you become stranded and the batteries of your electronic navigation device are drained of power.
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Orient yourself with your compass. The compass will contain a reddish coloured arrow that will always point towards north. Familiarise yourself with the dial turntable and baseplate on your compass. The dial is the circular piece that can be moved around the compass needle. You will notice markings on the turntable that range from 0 to 360 degrees. The baseplate will contain additional information including a "direction to travel" arrow.
Hold the compass level with the base plate of the compass lying level in your hand. The red section of the magnetic compass needle will be pointing north. Align the north arrow on the dial turntable so that both arrows point north.
Rotate the baseplate so that the "direction of travel" arrow printed on the baseplate points in the direction you wish to travel. Do not turn the dial turntable that you aligned with the magnetic north arrow previously.
Read the degree markings on the dial that overlap with the arrow printed on the baseplate. These are the compass bearings (in degrees) that you need to follow, which indicate the direction you wish to travel.
Practice using your compass in the backyard or at a local park. Choose a direction that you wish to travel in and practice aligning the different parts of your compass to guarantee accurate travel.
Tips and warnings
- If the compass arrow on your compass is a different colour, check the compass manual to see which needle always points north.
- Camping and hiking in the wilderness can be dangerous. Be sure that you are properly educated in survival techniques and that you bring the necessary gear, food and water required to stay safe even if you are met with adverse, unexpected conditions.
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