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Buying Guide for Compasses


By Steve Kopitz

Camping Compass


A compass. Pretty simple, right? But with different kinds of features now offered on a handheld compass it’s hard to decipher what you need versus what just gets added in. Here are a few things to look for when purchasing your next compass.


Declination Adjustment


• This will distinguish the difference between Magnetic North (the Earth’s magnetic North Pole) and True North (Geographic North). Most maps will be True North.


• Why is this important? Without getting too technical, a compass needle points to Earth’s magnetic north pole because the earth has a very iron-rich interior but the earth spins on its axis.


• Declination Adjustment is important because your compass will point to the magnetic North Pole but it won’t coincide with your map (which is based on the axis). This difference varies in different parts of the world and changes from year to year.


Baseplate Compass


• Clear plastic under the compass which helps greatly when you are mapping out your directions.


• You are able to see past the needle to the map below so you can plot out your route.


Orienting or Meridian Lines


• These are straight lines that point True North which aid in plotting directions.


• These lines will serve the purpose of getting an accurate read on a map by placing these lines over the meridian lines on a map. This ensures that you have a truly straight line instead of thinking that you have the compass down correctly.


Control Marking Holes


• These will help mark spots on maps.


• The purpose is to simply mark where you may want to stop, turn in a new direction or points of interest.




Some Cool Features:



Some compasses may have some of the following features.


• Ruler – when looking on a map it will help determine distances.


• Mirror – When held at eye level, you can easily detect which way to head next as opposed to looking down then up. This will often provide a more accurate reading.


• Magnifying Glass – Some compasses will have a magnifying glass to help read or mark very specific points on a map.


• Balanced – Compasses will sometimes be balanced for a certain hemisphere. If you are planning to camp in Chile, make sure that you aren’t bringing a compass balanced for the Northern Hemisphere.


• Luminous Markings – easy-to-read markings when you need to use the compass in dark conditions.


A compass is an essential part of camping and hiking. It could help save your life and guide you to the right path when there are no gas stations around to stop and asking for directions. Cell phones and GPS systems have batteries and electronics that could fail in rough conditions so it’s always recommended to carry a compass.




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