These days, the ultimate navigational tool is thought to be a GPS, or Global Positioning System. However, there are times when we need to be aware of the limitations and factors that may affect its accuracy. The conditions surrounding your location can reduce visibility to satellites. The manufacturer's information may be incorrect or outdated, or your location may be an off-road track that was never logged onto the database. A forest fire or mudslide may have occurred since the original navigation and the roads may have been wiped out or may be impassable. Your battery pack may fail or the GPS may malfunction.

     When you are in the great outdoors, whether in familiar territory or not, you should always have a navigational system with you. A sundial or a GPS may assist you but the best tool is a magnetic compass. A GPS gives a location and a sundial needs to be pointed in a particular direction. A compass will point toward magnetic north. "Magnetic" north is slightly different than "true" north, the difference, or angle, being called "declination." True north is the "top of the world" but isn't actually the point from which our planet turns - that point is called magnetic north. If you used strictly your compass to travel to the north pole, you would get there, but by an indirect path due to this magnetic declination. Some compasses will calculate the angle for you. With that being said, it has been found that the horizontal force and the frictional force of the magnetic field close to the north pole begin to even out and your compass may become unreliable… 

     Although a magnetic compass is a very simple device, reading a compass is not as simple as "the needle should point north." A compass should be used in conjunction with a map - it's basically useless if you don't know which way you should be going! A magnetic compass uses a needle, which generally is red in colour or is marked "N" or "north." It relies on the force of earth's magnetic field, which moves the needle until it points in the same direction as the magnetic field. This may all sound very scientific and complicated, but if you understand these concepts, you will better understand your compass.

     There are two main types of compasses - the magnetic compass, discussed above, and the gyrocompass, which, according to Oxford, is a nonmagnetic compass in which the direction of true north is maintained by a continuously driven gyroscope whose axis is parallel to the earth's axis of rotation. The gyrocompass is normally used on marine vessels and are subject to deviation errors due to changes in speed and latitude. Thus they must be compared with a magnetic compass frequently.

     Adventure Outdoorz prefers and recommends the use of the magnetic compass with a map for any of your outdoor treks. Pre-trip orientation is invaluable. Learn how to read a map, learn how to use a compass and navigate in extreme conditions - low visibility, similarity in terrain, dense tangle of brush can cause disorientation and confusion and lead to tragedy. Please stay safe.