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Backpacking Gear for Beginners: Compass

This post is part of the Backpacking Gear for Beginners course.

Why do you need a compass?

Some maps show trails, lake names and mountain names on them and may work for navigating without a compass but most don’t. The lakes and mountains also need to have signs for this to work. 

A compass will show you the direction you are heading and let you triangulate position off landmarks like mountains. 

Compasses also work well in bad weather or dense trees. If the weather gets very cloudy, foggy or snowy you may not be able to see any sort of landmark or figure out where north is.

Go for small, lightweight and reliable

Seeing as your maps and compass might stay in your bag a lot of the time, it’s nice to get something small and very lightweight.

Line up distant landmarks with a mirror

Some compass models come with a mirror on top that flips up. You can then hold the compass up in front of you, lining up the object you want to measure from and see the compass reflected in the mirror. This is helpful when you are finding your position on a map using landmarks around you.

Practice using the compass

It takes practice to know how to use a map and compass. Take a course and practice when you know where you are so you’ll be more comfortable in unknown terrain.

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