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How To Use A Compass

October 15th, 2010

Brass Gimbal Compasses

In today’s world of GPS systems many people forget just how important a compass can be in a jam. For instance, if you are lost in the woods, your GPS could easily lose signal or simply die on you, leaving you without a clue in the world. The compass, on the other hand, will never die on you. This is because compasses are designed to follow magnetic north, and use the Earth’s magnetic field as its main source of power. As long as the Earth continues to put out a magnetic resonance, no matter how weak, then your brass compass (or any other kind of compass) will continue to work.

Using a compass is easier than you would think. It may seem difficult by all of the markings and numbers that litter the face of the compass, but its not too bad. The compass we will discuss will be the mountaineering compass, also known as the orienteering compass. To start, you should note that the red arrow of the compass is nearly always the arrow that points due north. The opposite arrow will either be black or white, depending on the compass. In order to gauge this fully, stand in the direction of the sun around noon. Your compass should point toward you, and not toward the sun. This is because the sun is in the general direction of the south around 12PM. Note that if you are south of the equator then your readings will be opposite.

Your compass will have the markings N, E, S, W for North, East, South, and West. In between each of these directions will be numbers that go to 360. These numbers represent the degrees of a complete circle. The lines that run through the face of the compass are called orientating lines, while the red lined arrow is called the orientating arrow. Outside of the compass you will find the direction of travel arrow. This is where your red needle should be pointing to in order to travel in the right direction.

Once you have that down, reading a compass will be easy. The first thing you must do is to hold your hands as steady as possible, with the compass close to your belly and the red needle pointing directly in front of you. You will see that the red needle is pointing toward N. Slowly rotate your entire body until the red needle is pointing to the E symbol. Now you’re going east, right? Wrong! Don’t make the mistake of thinking that just because you moved your body and the needle appears to be pointing east that it is. Remember, the red needle will always point north! The way that you get it to point to your intended direction is simple, however. Once you have the needle facing the E, begin rotating the compass housing (sometimes called the bearing) until the red needle is again pointing at the N and is in the orientating arrow. This will line up west with the direction of travel arrow, and you now know how to change directions and use a compass.

Try out a stylish pocket compass for a convenient way to take this navigational tool with you anywhere you go!

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