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How to use a compass?


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I understand that such a simple question may be beyond the forums ability to discuss. But I've never been an "outdoorsman", never was in scouts or anything that would have taught me to use a compass. I can hold one in my hand, and find which way is north icon_smile.gif but other than that I would like to know how to use one.


I see postings of people who use their compass to make the last 100 feet to a cache, or when they totally loose GPS signals. Rather than bumbling aimlessly along, it seems a useful skill to acquire.

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Well, one method if you still have even a weak satellite signal for your GPS (or if your unit has its own internal magnetic compass rather than one that relies on GPS) is just to do whatever you would normally do to follow a route or arrow of some sort toward the cache. When you get within the last 100 feet or so according to your unit, look at the direction that the arrow on the unit is telling you that the cache is located, how many feet away it says, and pick out a landmark in that general direction to work toward (so you don't get off-track going around bushes, etc.). icon_smile.gif


As for using a compass separately without a directional arrow when there is no GPS signal, I could probably do it on the spot, but I don't think I could explain it very well here. icon_confused.gif

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A good quality Compass should always be used when you are out in the woods or looking for land while on the ocean/gulf/sea with no good reference point.


To use a compass reliably you need at least four things.

1) a compass

2) a map

3) a reference object/Land Mark or "LM" (bulding,bridge,cliff,rock,bouy,tree,or......)

4) an object/place to go to.


A compass alone will not find you a cache/place unless you know some details, like: other objects in the area, or the Long/Lat #'s of the location givin in the cache/location description.

If thats the case you only need to know where North is and know what Long and Lat you, or an object is.

A sextant would be a good addition to the back pack.



I dont use a compass my self I use ded~reconing and pay attention to where im going and where i've gone. icon_razz.gif


Sofa, King, We, Todd, Did

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I'm not much of a compass user myself. I understand the theory, but I've never practiced finding my location on a map simply by using a compass...


But, I have used a compass in my geocaching. I've found it to help a little, but usually I go without.


Here's what I do: When the GPS says I'm somewhere around 100 feet from the cache, I take note of the distance and bearing to the cache. At the very minimum, you should have a compass that has the degree tickmarks on it. These degree marks coorrelate to the bearing indicated on your GPS.


Now... let your compass point itself to north, the cache should be in the direction (on the compass) that corresponds with the bearing value indicated on the GPS. Keep in mind that this technique becomes less and less accurate the closer you are to the cache.


Why is this better than simply using the GPS by itself? A couple of reasons. First, if you are walking very slowly around in circles (looking for the cache), your GPS has a very hard time figuring out which direction it is pointed, and therefore it can't point its pointer at the cache very accurately. It does know the bearing between its location and the location of the cache, however, regardless of its motion.


Also, in heavy tree cover (or other signal sapping times) you can go to a clearer area further from the cache to get a better signal. From this distant location, you can note the bearing, and use your compass from there to move in on the cache.


Make sure your GPS is set to magnetic north, or if you prefer to use true north (as most maps are layed out) that you can adjust your compass for your local magnetic declination. If your GPS and compass aren't in cahoots, then your course could be off by several degree, throwing you off the cache location by a wide margin. (I'm lucky... in Memphis, the declination is much less than a degree)


Hope this helps.



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JamieZ pretty much nailed it on the head. It also helps if your compass has a rotating bezel. Get the bearing, or azimuth, to the waypoint you are going towards, and set the bezel on your compass to the same bearing after adding or subtracting the magnetic declination. You can also save the math step if you have your GPS set at magnetic. Now line up the north-seeking arrow on the compass with the marks on the bezel, and the compass will be pointed in the direction you want to go--higher end compasses usually have sights and a mirror, so you can sight in on a distant landmark and still read the face of the compass. Hopefully this helps, and doesn't leave you totally confused. Happy cachin'!!! 15T



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One thing I use a compass for is when you get close to the cache, I lay my gps down where I can find it again.After it sits for a while it will tell you the bearing to the cache. In stead of picking up the gps to see which way it is, I do it will the compass.

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Like others have said, you should get a compass with bearing tick marks on the rotating bezel. When your about 100' from the cache, look what the GPSr says the bearing is to the cache, rotate the bezel so the appropriate tick mark matches the north arrow on the baseplate of the compass. Now rotate the compass so the red north arrow is lined up with the north arrow on the bezel. The arrow on the baseplate will point in the direction you want to go. Notice the distance on the GPSr, and the approx. feet. The cache should be in this area. If you don't find it, walk off in another direction 100-200', and do it again. This way, your starting to triangulate, and it will narrow the search location. Good luck

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The local REI here in Albuquerque offers a monthy "Map & Compass" class. It allegedly teaches you how to use a compass and a topo map, Cost is $20 (five hour class and they furnish the compass and maps for use during the class). I was going to take it last month but it was cancelled due to a lack of folks signing up for it.



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Thanks all for your responses. I know that this is skill only gained by experience, but your comments and pointers are helpful. I'm going to see if I can pick up a nice compass and try it out on my next trip.


Cheesy, what is REI? It sounds like an interesting class.

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Go to wall mart and buy a silva compass. The directions in the with the compass make a great addition to your geocaching bag as a compass refresher. I like this compass because it is so easy to use and train people to use. Spent almost 20 yearsdoing that for the boy scouts. By the way the compass is less than 10 bucks. eight something.

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Originally posted by headmj:

...buy a silva compass.

...except don't go to Walmart. The compass can be had for a dollar or two more at any outdoors store, and the salesman there can actually give you some tips on how to use it. If you have any trouble, you can go back to the store and they'll help you with it.


Not a bad deal for an extra buck.



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