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The compass is a useful tool, especially when combined with the use of a map. Once you are used to them they are easy to use and in poor weather conditions or unfamiliar country they are a welcome addition to anyone's personal equipment.

The most common type of compass simply uses a magnetic strip, carefully balanced and isolated, that will simply point to (Magnetic) North.

Here you can find some ideas and pointers on how best to use your compass, both alone and in conjunction with a map.

You will find it useful to look at related topics in the Map and Tracking (Direction Finding) sections.


Choosing a compass

Choose your compass with care. The most appropriate type for use in scouting is probably the orienteering compass. A good one will have a well balanced steel magnetic needle that settles into position quickly. The needle should be coloured differently at each end, usually red at the north end. If the tip glows in the dark then even better.

The base plate and dial are usually strong plastic. The dial will have increments of around 2 marked clearly. On the dial itself will be faint meridian lines (faint parallel blue lines pointing in the same direction as north on the dial). Some even have extra information such as magnetic variation or declination degrees marked on the dial. The dial also has an arrow marked on the bottom aligned with north on the dial.

The base plate should be transparent and have scales in both metric (cm and mm) and imperial (inches). A magnifying glass, clinometer, sighting mirror and adjustable declination screw are all welcome extras.

Don't forget a strong strap attached to the base plate which should be securely held at the other end to your shirt pocket buttonhole or around your neck.

Why is it spinning like that?

Because a compass is based upon a magnet the needle can be affected by magnetic fields and materials such as iron. For instance your belt buckle, a zip, caribiner. Even mineral deposits in the ground can offset your compass. Don't just look down either. Look around and above you. Sitting under a power line or near an electric motor will not do you any favours.



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Copyright 2001 1st/11th Roscommon Scouts
Last modified: June 23, 2002


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