Why do we need a compass for a hike? A compass shows direction. If you have a compass and a map, it will help you find your location, show the direction back to the trail, parking lot or your group. The map usually will have a compass rose located in the corner, pointing towards north.
The device will point the magnetic needle to magnetic north. True north is a stationary point (north pole). As opposed to magnetic north which moves around. The compass needle locates and points to the iron in the earth’s crust. The fact that the liquid iron flows around, results in magnetic north not being a constant over time.
A compass shows cardinal and intercardinal points. Some compasses break down the directions even further. But for now, let’s stick to the cardinal (North, East, South, West) and intercardinal (Northeast, Southeast, Northwest, Southwest) geographical directions. By holding the compass level, the needle will settle. The red part will point north. Match up the north on the map’s compass rose with the north of your compass. Look for a landmark to figure out where you are. Locate the trail on the map and head in that direction.
The more expensive a compass you are using the more bells and whistles it will have. A decent inexpensive compass, if taken care of, is a tool that should last for years. If you are hiking in local parks that you are familiar with, this should be easy enough to get you back to your destination. Practice with the littles allowing them to be confident in using a compass. Also a mnemonic device you can teach them to remember the cardinal locations, “Never Eat Soggy Waffles”.
Attach your compass to a carabiner and then to your backpack, so it is always available. Have fun, get used to using a compass. Once you get proficient, orienteering might become your new outdoor sport. More on that in a later article. Remember if you are looking for us, you will find us outside.