How to use map & compass

IMG_3108(First in a series) The first of the outdoor essentials that many outdoor groups like REI and the Boy Scouts tell folks to take with them on all outings is a navigation aid.  That is, a map and compass.  I remember as a child when I was a new Boy Scout I was super-proud of my compass.  I knew I had the magic talisman that would make me a great woodsman!

Then I realized that knowing where magnetic North was didn’t get me where I wanted to go or keep me from getting lost.  Without knowing where things were in relation to you, knowing where North is doesn’t do you any good. That’s where a good map comes in handy and that’s where you need a handful of basic map-and-compass skills.  So, the first outdoor essential is not just possessing a map and a compass, but also having the skills to use them to keep from getting lost and to get where you want to go.

First, you DO have to get a good compass.  I am generally very thrifty (some people say tight).  It bugs me to lay out a lot of cash for a piece of equipment like a compass, so I’ve spent way more money over the years trying to make do with cheap compasses. They always break.  I’m not kidding – I have broken every single cheapo compass I’ve ever bought at Walmart on the first outing after I bought it!

Finally, I wised up and shopped around, read the reviews on Amazon (I love Amazon), and figured out that there are about two acceptable starter compasses – Suunto and Silva.

Both are good compasses that will do what you need doing.  Both are priced in the $20 range with Suunto being slightly more expensive.  Suunto is made in Finland and Silva in the USA, if that matters to you.


So step-1 in learning to use a map and compass is to get a good compass.  Click on one of the above photos or text links and Amazon can have it in your mailbox in a day or two.  Meanwhile, stay tuned for upcoming articles on how to get useful maps and what to so with your map and compass to keep yourself safe on your outdoor adventures!

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