There is no substitute for a good compass, and the ability to use it. Since getting lost is generally the reason for most wilderness emergencies, stay found to stay out of trouble!
A map and compass are basic navigation tools in the backcountry.
In this article, navigation expert Blake Miller tells you how to check out and make sure your magnetic compass is safe and ready to go.
by Blake Miller
Recently, I was watching a rifle expert on one of the many outdoor cable shows. This gent is a noted ballistics expert, writer and occasional backcountry guide. During a segment of the interview he was demonstrating what was in his day pack. It kept my interest, had the ten essentials, and all was going just fine until he brought out his compass.
It looked like a wonderful antique, might have come across the Great Plains and Rockies with Lewis and Clark –but in terms of reliability- it was questionable. The sad part is, he spent absolutely no time discussing key factors of having a reliable compass. He touched his compass and quickly put it down.
And touching a compass is about all that most people do too. Hunters preparing to go afield will spend hours with their rifle at the range evaluating their zero, adjusting optics, and measuring the initial velocity of that hot new round. Navigation takes time to get dialed in, too.
Navigation is not “rocket science” but it takes practice. It is a perishable skill. The analogy that I use in my wilderness navigation classes is that you can hop on a bike after not riding one for ten years and head on down the road. But trying to triangulate after ten months can be a chore.
For starters, you need a decent compass. Leave the $5.00 compass on the shelf at the store. (For more information on buying a compass check out my article on selecting a compass.)
Here are a few recommendations for a compass tune up:
Don’t depend on your friends being the navigation experts. Make it a goal to exceed their skills. You might find that your initial impression was mistaken. Instead of a “sense of direction” develop the skill of navigation.
Practice with a compass is essential to safe wilderness travel. To quote Fleming, “The key to knowing where you are, is constant awareness.”
Blake Miller has made a career out of staying found and knowing where he is at all times. His formal navigation training began when he joined the U.S. Navy in 1973. He served as an officer aboard several Navy ships over his
20-year career; many of those tours included the duty of Navigator. Blake began working with satellite navigation systems at sea in 1976, culminating with the then-new satellite positioning systems aboard the Battleship WISCONSIN in early 1990.
In 1998, Blake started Outdoor Quest, a business dedicated to backcountry navigation and wilderness survival. Blake has taught classes to wild land firefighters, state agency staffs, Search and Rescue team members, hunters, hikers, skiers, fishermen and equestrians. He regularly teaches classes through the Community Education programs at Central Oregon (Bend) and Chemeketa (Salem, OR) Community Colleges.
As a volunteer, Blake teaches navigation and survival classes to students in the local school districts, and conservation groups. He is a member of a Search and Rescue team.
If you have any questions about land navigation or wilderness survival, you can contact Blake through SurvivalCommonSense.firstname.lastname@example.org, or you can go to his website.
To hear the Blake Miller interview about choosing a magnetic compass and GPS on SurvivalCommonSense.com Radio, click here.