We all usually have a compass or two around. We must ask ourselves some serious questions. It is always assumed a compass is nearly essential to being prepared, and I’m certainly not here to say it isn’t. I have a maxim I try to use in most things, from lighting fire to building shelter, I ask myself, what is the purpose? Those answers help to determine the functions and type of use. Perhaps the following list of questions can be helpful.
- Do I own a decent reliable compass?
- Have I ever used a compass to navigate a trip?
- Am I familiar with how it works?
- Do I have appropriate maps of the area(s) I am traveling in?
- Do I know how to orient the map and compass?
- Am I familiar with the area I am traveling in?
- Do I know somewhat the locale surrounding my area of activity
- Are there roads, trails, rivers, peaks, lakes or other landmarks in the area? Am I familiar with them?
- When I travel in an area do I make mental notes that may help guide me should I become lost?
There are perhaps a hundred questions that could be asked, but what we have here will suffice to illustrate some important points. I suppose the most telling thing in determining whether a compass is an asset or not hinges on familiarity with the instrument, the area of travel, and competence in map work.
To highlight the point let’s use Robbie as an example. One day Robbie goes venturing into a new area where he’s never been before. He travels around enjoying the views. Robbie gets involved in enjoying the scenery and exploring a bit and does not pay particular attention to his route. He becomes lost. He does not have a map since he decided to check the location out as a spur of the moment. At first he is worried, then he remembers, he has a good compass.
What will Robbie use the compass for? Without a map to match the compass to and being unfamiliar with the area, the compass is of little use really. He can use it to direct him in many wrong directions. Likely he could use the sun for direction about as well.
Owning a compass is like owning a sailboat, pretty useless unless you know how to use it.
Of course the dynamics of the situation could change very dramatically if just one or two facts are known. If, for example, Robbie knows that a highway runs all along the East side of the area he is in, he could always head that direction knowing he will run into it.
The fact of the matter is that in my experience with many people, very few ever use a compass on a trip. More people have a map than a compass, and if they do have both, are unfamiliar with how to use the two together. If you don’t know how to use a compass, it is unlikely that it will do you any good to have one.
Don’t let owning a compass lure you into a sense of false security
In the famous aviator Harold Gatty’s book, “Finding Your Way Without Map or Compass” he shows that by observation of things a person is able to travel effectively without a map or compass. Here’s the point I would like to make, whether you have a compass or not, knowing your area is invaluable, without that knowledge a compass may be of little use to you. The more you know the better off you can be.
So again the question “How Valuable is a Compass in Your Survival Kit?”
Well it depends on what else you know.
Consider the items you deem important enough to carry with you, make sure you know how to use them or they may just be dead weight you are carrying around.
Until next time, for Wilderness Innovation, this is Perry Peacock, Simplifying Survival