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General Gear Discussion The General Gear Discussion forum is for the discussion of traditional and lightweight (ultralight) backpacking gear that is not covered in other Practical Backpacking™ forums. [Please post about Backpacks, Shelters, Sleeping Gear, Backcountry Kitchen (Food, Stoves) in those respective forum areas.]


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  #1  
Old 07-03-2009, 05:46 PM
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cknighton cknighton is offline
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Compass Accuracy for Day Hikes

I'm finally preparing and packing a decent set of essentials for dayhiking. Part of that is learning the compass, so I'm no longer That Hiker who carts one around but can't use it.

My current compass is an older "Nexus" brand that is pretty similar to this Silva model. Unlike the Silva, mine does NOT have adjustable declination.

After learning the basics I have a few questions:

1) The declination difference is small between home and where I hike, so I just drew an adjustment with a finetip Sharpie. The fixed declination scale is really teeny and only has 2-degree graduations. Home/away declination is 12.42/12.46 degrees east, so my carefully-drawn Sharpie lines point the needle to " almost 13". (With an amateur-astronomy background, a 4-arc-minute variation seems huge to me... but does it matter for general getting around?) Assuming I don't go somewhere with a significantly different declination, is this a reasonably accurate substitute for adjustable declination?

2) On the issue of accuracy, how much does one really need for general hiking? I'm not orienteering or normally traveling off designated trails, but do want to be sure that if something happens, I can safely return to camp or car. It kind of bugs me that this compass dial's degrees are marked only by twos, and it's hard to read at that. Do I need a compass with one-degree graduations, or am I overthinking again?

3) Any recommendations on a feature set in a better model? And is $50-$75 a realistic budget for a good everyday compass? (I'd love to have a pocket transit, but that's the gearhead in me talking )

Thanks!!
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  #2  
Old 07-03-2009, 08:49 PM
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atraildreamer atraildreamer is offline
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The Silva model shown should be fine for general hiking. Magnetic declination can vary even in a short distance. The 2 degree gradations will help you keep your sanity by not allowing you to adjust for inconsequential, minor changes in declination.

If you are expecting to dead reckon a course and hit your destination every time off of a compass heading, you will be disappointed. Most compass courses suggest that you set a course slightly offside to your destination, aiming for a landmark, such as a road, etc., that when reached will allow you to then adjust your course to your destination. I hike in an area that is bounded on the north by power lines that parallel the trail back to the trail head parking lot. All I need is a general northerly heading to hit the lines, and the trail back.

If you have a line of sight on a couple of prominent landmarks, eg: known mountain peaks, then you can use accurate compass sightings to triangulate and mark your position on a topo map.

Try to develop a feel for the terrain you are traveling through. Don't rely entirely on a compass.

Q: Why do they have a mirror on a compass?

A: So you can look at it and see who is lost!
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  #3  
Old 07-04-2009, 07:03 AM
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dsuursoo dsuursoo is offline
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50-75 is actually a pretty fair price to pay. i paid 71 for my tritium lensatic compass by cammina(it's basically the military land navigation compass).

the most important thing to look for in a compass is the directional accuracy. some trailheads will have a spot to check the accuracy of your compass, by sighting to a object at a known bearing from a designated spot. you'll want a maxiumum deviation(regardless of magnetic deviation) of no more than three degrees. any more, you should probably throw it out.

silvas have been great compasses as well, i carry a silva as my backup compass.
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  #4  
Old 07-05-2009, 05:58 PM
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Slosteppin Slosteppin is offline
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Yes, if you are looking for a star (Polaris in my experience, 4 minutes error is huge. When I was closing a set of measurements around a section of land one minute of angular error was huge.

If you could get accuracy better than 1 arc degree with any hikers compass I would be very surprised. In a former life (before I retired) I was a land surveyor. Our compasses were much bigger than than any hiker would carry. We did not expect better than one degree accuracy with a compass.

One degree error in 100 feet will put you off line by 1.75 feet. One degree error in one mile will put you off line by 92 feet. If I get within 100 feet of my vehicle I can find it.

I can never navigate by compass and stay on an exact bearing for a mile through the forest. I must constantly go around things and make corrections. A few degrees compass error is the least of the problems.

Slosteppin
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  #5  
Old 07-05-2009, 10:18 PM
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dsuursoo dsuursoo is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Slosteppin

I can never navigate by compass and stay on an exact bearing for a mile through the forest. I must constantly go around things and make corrections. A few degrees compass error is the least of the problems.


i use a pace counter and go around all major obstacles using right angle turns. it's a military land navigation practice that's served me in good stead. that and constant bearings to landmarks if i can help it. traveling on the ridges makes this a LOT easier, if a bit more work.
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  #6  
Old 07-06-2009, 07:10 PM
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cknighton cknighton is offline
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Thanks, everyone, for your perspectives. Had a feeling I was worrying too much

It's good to know what is reasonable with a regular-joe compass in the field. I certainly wasn't expecting GPS-style accuracy, nor do I feel a need for that after hiking for years with just a topo map and eyeballs. I've never failed to get home yet, but that's risky and I can see how one wrong turn among crisscrossing trails will leave me grateful to triangulate and see which one I've mistakenly followed!

I'll look for a trailhead calibration point also. Thanks for that tip!
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  #7  
Old 07-06-2009, 11:44 PM
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Benwaller Benwaller is offline
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Pick up a copy of Staying Found - The Complete Map and Compass Handbook by June Fleming, published by The Mountaineers Books, paperback. It is small enough to fit into your pack, bound well enough to survive frequent field reference and will help you to develop the orienteering skills you seek in the shortest amount of time.

As for an adequate compass, you don't need a land transit. An instrument with a declination ring is plenty good enough.

Get the book, you'll really like it.

Ben
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  #8  
Old 07-07-2009, 06:25 PM
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cknighton cknighton is offline
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That's on my Amazon wish list now. Thanks for the rec!
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