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Compass Function...is It Needed?


familyz1
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I want a GPS to use for Geocaching and for driving directions and street level maps. It appears that most units have either a compass or the ability to link to a pc, or large memory, but you have to pay a fortune (more than $400) to have all of them.

 

Do you really need a compass for anything....other than getting lost in the woods? Is it helpful for caching or driving directions?

 

Thanks,

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Well, there are two types of 'compasses' with GPS units - electronic and direction finders.

 

Direction finders are not true compasses. The Legend has this feature. the next model up has an electronic (and therefore 'real') compass.

 

I have a Legend and carry a real magentic compass with me as an accessory. When I get close to a cache I take 'Bearing' numbers off of my gps and use the physical compass to zero in on the cache.

 

I would advise always taking a real compass with you, but many find this to be a matter of personal preference.

 

If you want to spend the extra money for a GPS with an electronic compass, keep in mind that you're batteries will wear out faster (likely as you're better GPS units will have more features to consume that power).

 

DO NOT CONFUSE DIRECTION FINDERS WITH ELECTRONIC COMPASSES. Sorry for shouting. Direction finders cannot tell which way you are facing when you are standing still, only a true compass (electronic or otherwise) can do that for you.

 

As for driving - I don't use a compass at all - I hape a GPS that can display maps, which is very helpful. I'd recommend a GPS with this capability if you can afford it.

 

Welcome to geocaching, and Happy New Year!

Edited by New England n00b
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I have the Garmin Legend, which does not have the compass. While it would be nice, I don't find it necessary. Sometimes my "GOTO" arrow points the wrong direction, so I just don't use that screen once I get close (say, 50ft). I use the map screen and zoom down as low as it will go. I just carry a good compass for when simply walking up to where my Legend says ground zero is doesn't work.

So if all you need the compass for is geocaching, I'd save the extra $100-200.

 

I can't speak on driving directions, since my Legend doesn't have that function anyway.

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A compass is helpful as you get close and know the direction to the cache, as you move slower the “go this way” pointer sometimes acts strange. This is because the GPS computes this based on were you were before and were you are now and if you did not move far and the GPS error is large enough it may think that in addition to the two steps you took forward you did 1 left or something like that.

 

That said unless you fell you really need the compass in the GPS it may save you a few dollars by purchasing one at a camp/outdoors store and not in your GPS.

 

An alternate strategy is to make several approaches to ground zero from different direction were you can walk at it. This usually gets me close enough but on bad days I have to back up and take a couple GPS bearing and compass sighting to triangulate ground zero. There are just those days were the GPS feels I need more exercise and should walk in circles., or is it the GPS square dance. B)

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We used to have a Legend, and we often needed to use a compass towards the end of the search. When OfficeMax was mistakenly selling the Vista for $169 last fall, we snagged a couple of them and sold the Legend. I really like the convience of having the electronic compass, and I don't think we've used the regular compass once since we got the Vistas. But I don't think it would have been worth paying the normal full price for the Vista (over $200) just for the compass.

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Don't bother with a "real compass" inside the GPS unless its a gadget "must have" for you. Like the others have said, it drains batteries, blah blah blah.

 

When you replace batteries in the GPS, you have to recalibrate compass. You go to the compass calibration screen, and then turn it around twice at a specific speed. Then you can use the compass feature.

 

If you didn't have a need for a compass before, I would recommend that you don't bother with it now. If you want to spend the money on a compass, buy a good one which works well with maps. There are a couple of compasses which are designed specifically for use with GPS and maps. REI.com or gpscity.com will be able to steer you in the right direction.

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...and if you're like me, a natural klutz, then having the compass built into the GPS is a very handy gadget to have. One device, one hand, easy to keep hold of and still use the other hand for other things... like scratching your chin or reading your PDA for other useful hints.

 

I frequently use the compass when I have the cache selected as a GOTO waypoint. The compass points at the bearing direction the cache is in and allows me to do live triangulation as I get closer.

 

It also came in handy at this cache when I strictly used the compass to point the way while the leader was bushwhacking our way through. It was easy to keep a bearing and not worry about the jumpy tracking that can sometimes occur in those situations.

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No you don't need a compass on your GPS. It's nice if you are standing still as the GPS will still point (more or less) the right direction. When I used a GPS with a compass I had to turn the dang thing off to make the GPS work like it should. The only time I let the compass turn on was when I was standing still for a time.

 

Two steps will get your GPS pointing the right way so it's not hard to live without one.

 

Once you get them set up they are nice, but not a feature that I'd miss either. I've used both a GPS with and a GPS without a compass.

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When I used a GPS with a compass I had to turn the dang thing off to make the GPS work like it should.

I had a SporTrak Color with a built-in compass and hated it. The compass in my 60CS is great! Similar [brand] story for you or ... ?

Vista is what I used. Finding that magic spot to where "hold level" would go away was a pain. Funny I've been wondering if Garmin shouldn't try the 3 axis compass the Magellans use. The 60CS I used was only briefly, not enough time to figure out the settings and try various combos. In the end Night Stalker only uses his when he needs it by using the press and hold button (I forget which one toggles the compass).

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My wife bought me a compass for Christmas, and I used it on our last find. It made it a lot easier once we got close to the cache, there is no doubt about that. She bought it for me because she heard me complain so many times about how hard it was to find caches when they were in places where it was hard to keep moving.

 

That being said, I don't think spending more money on a GPS with the builtin compass is worth the extra money when a simple compass will do the same thing for a lot less money.

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Vista is what I used. Finding that magic spot to where "hold level" would go away was a pain. Funny I've been wondering if Garmin shouldn't try the 3 axis compass the Magellans use. The 60CS I used was only briefly, not enough time to figure out the settings and try various combos. In the end Night Stalker only uses his when he needs it by using the press and hold button (I forget which one toggles the compass).

Yeah, the Hold Level "feature" is quite nice. B) I find that if I calibrate it while spinning myself like a ballerina* works better than just turning the GPS for keeping it level during calibration... and I'm less likely to get the message on the screen.

 

BTW, press and hold PAGE to toggle the compass on the 60CS.

 

*Don't try this at home.

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I have a pocket compass but it is usually in the jacket I left at home. I have the 76C without a electronic compass and before that I used a 76S which has the electronic compass. Only one time I was very happy to have the electronic compass and that was when I was in a very large forest with trails going every which way and lost a lock on the satallites and needed the electronic compass to find my way back out. Yes, the hand compass was in the other jacket.

Edited by W7WT
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I recommend getting a compass like the one pictured earlier. These are easier and more accurate to sight a bearing. Often times when you get to a point in a terrain where you have to make a decision whether to go up, down or sideways, it helps to use your compass.

I have one of the fields on the navigation page set to the "bearing to waypoint". You can look at this, set your compass to the bearing and take take a sight to your bearing. You are stopped, this takes a couple of seconds, and you then decide how to proceed. Good practice and I think more accurate than using the compass on a GPSr.

A compass is small, light, cheap and you have to carry one anyway since it is a backup in case you drop your GPSr on a rock/off a cliff.

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Currently I do not own a GPS with a compass, but have always wanted it for one reason and one reason alone. In order for my gps and many others without a compass, you need to be moving at least 2 mph in order for the gps to point in the direction of the cache, but with a built in compass you could be standing still and still know which direction you need to travel. This would be extremely helpful while walking through thick brush or on any terrain that would prevent you from traveling the minimum speed needed for the compass to function correctly.

 

Is it worth the extra $, thats up to you.

Would I depend on it in a life and death situation? Probably not. I would still carry a trusty map compass as a backup.

 

Just my .02, hope it helps!

 

Kar

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I've noticed that those who appreciate the electronic compass use the compass during goto. I do not use the compass during goto. I may click through the screen once or twice en route. However I can't see the TOPO info on the compass screen.

 

If it's your caching style to use the compass GOTO arrow to navigate to the cache location, than the electronic compass would be very useful.

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just repeating everyone else. get the $10 one. i have one, it doesn't have batteries to run out, it doesn't get affected by trees or clouds. i often cross ref to it in bad weather. well worth the money, wouldn't bother with the elctric version. even if i could afford it

There is a significant difference between an actual electronic compass and one that utilizes satellites. Trees, clouds and bad weather don't affect the electronic compass.

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Just be careful with some of the really cheap models at Wal-Mart. I was buying a compass for my cousins son who was learning orienteering. I grabbed the first $6 compass at Wal-Mart and sighted a post at the far end of the aisle. 68 degrees. I grabbed the second, 76 degrees. The third, 74 degrees.

 

I then ran over to the nearby Gander Mountain and looked at a $11 Silva. I ran the same test by sighting a sign clear across the store. The first, 162 degrees. I also got 162 degrees for the next 3 Silva's I tried. The Silva was worth the extra $5.

 

There are a lot of really good compasses available for $10-20. I always take one caching with me. I have a second that rides in my birding field bag every time I go birdwatching as well.

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Go Sliva! I paid $20 because the sighting mirror was important to me. I would recommend a compass for the same reason you'd take extra batteries: JIC.

 

Another reason to take a compass is for letterboxes, offset, and puzzle caches. You never know if you'll be directed to take a bearing like "walk 10 paces at bearing 180° then walk 40 paces 17° . . ." or some such.

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I use an on-board electronic compass in my Vista. It frees up my second hand to hold my hiking stick, my water bottle or a tree rather than a second instrument, a regular compass. The a GPS and electronic compass go together like "bacon and eggs" providing a single "seamless" navigation instrument.

 

Also note that units that have an electronic compass have other features as well that the non compass models may not. For example the Vista has a baromettric altimeter which can be used to track changing weather conditions and your gain/loss in elevation while hiking. It's "competitor" the Legend, beside not having either an electronic compass or altimeter also has 1/3 the memory of a Vista. This is probably a more important cosideration to make in deciding on the unit to purchase. You should look at all the features between units in making an overall decision before buying.

 

Good luck.

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I use an on-board electronic compass in my Vista. It frees up my second hand to hold my hiking stick, my water bottle or a tree rather than a second instrument, a regular compass. The a GPS and electronic compass go together like "bacon and eggs" providing a single "seamless" navigation instrument.

 

Also note that units that have an electronic compass have other features as well that the non compass models may not. For example the Vista has a baromettric altimeter which can be used to track changing weather conditions and your gain/loss in elevation while hiking. It's "competitor" the Legend, beside not having either an electronic compass or altimeter also has 1/3 the memory of a Vista. This is probably a more important cosideration to make in deciding on the unit to purchase. You should look at all the features between units in making an overall decision before buying.

 

Good luck.

For teh B&W units this is true, but the color units both now have 24 MB.

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I want a GPS to use for Geocaching and for driving directions and street level maps.  It appears that most units have either a compass or the ability to link to a pc, or large memory, but you have to pay a fortune (more than $400) to have all of them.

 

Not necessarily. The Magellan Color is a top of the line handheld gpsr and it does the driving directions. It has a large memory in the sense that is uses SD cards. It lacks an electronic compass. For less money you can get a Magellan Platinum which is identical except it has a monochrome screen, but does have the compass. It comes down to what is more important to you, the color screen or the compass. For me it was the color screen, but that is entirely subjective. I have mentioned Magellan units because that is what I know. Garmin and others also make comparable units.

 

Do you really need a compass for anything....other than getting lost in the woods?  Is it helpful for caching or driving directions?

 

In my opinion a compass is only useful if the GPS batteries die on you. This makes an electronic compass useless since it requires battery power. If you use maps and project azimuths and such things a good, non electronic compass is necessary. So, I don't find them (electronic compasses) necessary. An electronic compass is pretty close to useless for use with maps as they lack the ability to be laid down on the map and lined up precisely. What the GPS compass is useful for is getting your bearings while standing still. If you are lost in the woods and forgot to mark your car as a waypoint before seeking a cache you might be glad to have a compass on the GPS assuming you know you generally went west in looking for the cache. Of course if you can walk a few feet any GPS can tell you the cardinal directions.

 

So, no, an electronic compass isn't a necessity. It isn't even all that useful an option, but it is a nice thing to have if the unit you select for other reasons happens to have it. Then again since *any* $2 compass can tell you the cardinal directions if you really think such a thing will be nice, just go to walmart and buy the cheapest compass you can find and you are all set. You now have to pack 2 items instead of 1, but try finding a GPSr that only charges $2 for the electronic compass feature.

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I have a regular compass in my GeoCaching Bag and it has proven priceless when searching some of those Caches where GPS is going all over the place.

 

Plus... mine has a mirror in it and it's great to look under surfaces for Micros

I like the mirror idea, I think I will looking setting one up on one of my hiking sticks, I is harder to look under things when you get older I am finding out :huh:

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Going from a legend to a 60cs has been a real treat. Now that I have the built in compass I find myself using it all the time. The problem is that I never carry a real compass on the "Easy" cache hunts because I try to travel light. I have a small silva compass from wal mart. I think it was about 20 bucks.

 

For a while with amazon.com the price between the 60c and the 60cs was only about 20 bucks, can't beat that.

 

 

For car navigation you are moving fast enough and out in the open. Save the money. For geocaching, get the Compass

 

 

Joe Smith

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you need to be moving at least 2 mph in order for the gps to point in the direction of the cache

Not true. If you take 3-5 steps, regardless of your speed, the "compass rose" will orient itself correctly, since it now compares where you were with where you are, and assumes you are heading that direction. You can now stop, and as long as you stay facing the same way that you were facing while you moved, the compass rose is correct.

 

I digress, however. The one thing I never hear mentioned in these debates is the Northfinder feature that all Magellan units have. This shows a sun and/or moon icon on the compass screen. Simply line that icon up with the sun/moon in the sky, and your compass rose is now oriented correctly. Period. Yes, I carry a decent compass, but in 133 finds and only a few DNFs, I have never actually needed or used it to find a cache, because of the Northfinder. Even though it may sound like a hokey feature to some Garmin owners, once you've used it, you realize how accurate and valuable it is.

 

My opinion? A built-in compass is very nice and my next unit will probably have one. Is it worth $100 or more extra just for that compass? Not a chance. Buy a good pocket compass instead for $10-20.

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I have an older Meridian Map model without a true compass, but it still has Map and PC interface..

 

As to newbie lessons learned so far..

 

The GPS MAP screen seems to be good enough for me up till about 20 feet or less. But then the direction arrow is sitting right on top of the goto mark on the screen. You can't zoom in anymore to see which way to go...

 

Then I either switch over to the direction finder/compass screen and use it to move in the right direction to get the distance numbers to go down.

 

If there is cover in the area, I moved out to clear sky and use my traditional compass to take a triang bearing and estimate walk off the distance..

 

Many parks where caches are hidden have heavy tree cover that seem to make the receiver useless to spotty.

 

Most caches don't seem to be deep in the boonies, but it does make finding the cache easier to double check the coordinates and also make for good practice of using a compass.

 

Here in Fla, the cover can get so thick and all look the same that you lose your way easily after getting into the scrub. And a hand held compass, basic map (and the knowledge to use them) and even notes/times as to your route,

is a must for an easier exit to the vehicle in case your GPSr dies or you get into heavy tree cover..

 

If you have the extra $ get a unit with a real compass to save things to carry.

Always carry a manual backup compass and map.

 

I'm considering instead of buying a newer better GPSr, buying a cheaper basic

model for the person I am with to carry..

Edited by SICILIANS
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So, no, an electronic compass isn't a necessity.  It isn't even all that useful an option, but it is a nice thing to have if the unit you select for other reasons happens to have it.  Then again since *any* $2 compass can tell you the cardinal directions if you really think such a thing will be nice, just go to walmart and buy the cheapest compass you can find and you are all set.  You now have to pack 2 items instead of 1, but try finding a GPSr that only charges $2 for the electronic compass feature.

Don't forget the fact that the built-in compass will point you in the direction of the cache without having to be moving. Without the compass, you must be moving in order for the arrow to point you in the correct direction. Regardless of N-S-E-W, this feature makes it a lot nicer to have a compass built-in.

Edited by robert
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you need to be moving at least 2 mph in order for the gps to point in the direction of the cache

Not true. If you take 3-5 steps, regardless of your speed, the "compass rose" will orient itself correctly, since it now compares where you were with where you are, and assumes you are heading that direction. You can now stop, and as long as you stay facing the same way that you were facing while you moved, the compass rose is correct.

 

I digress, however. The one thing I never hear mentioned in these debates is the Northfinder feature that all Magellan units have. This shows a sun and/or moon icon on the compass screen. Simply line that icon up with the sun/moon in the sky, and your compass rose is now oriented correctly. Period. Yes, I carry a decent compass, but in 133 finds and only a few DNFs, I have never actually needed or used it to find a cache, because of the Northfinder. Even though it may sound like a hokey feature to some Garmin owners, once you've used it, you realize how accurate and valuable it is.

 

My opinion? A built-in compass is very nice and my next unit will probably have one. Is it worth $100 or more extra just for that compass? Not a chance. Buy a good pocket compass instead for $10-20.

Actually, I have seen where 2-3 steps in one direction while under a measured 2-3MPH will cause some confusion with the GPS. Remember the level of accuracy parameters will play into this. It can give erroneous information and still be considered accurate well within the given parameters.

 

I was able to repeat that bad directional info several times.

 

Just a heads up...

 

The Northfinder works great if you can determine the position of the sun or the moon. In deep woods or a very cloudy day... this could be a problem.

 

Even with an electronic compass on my MeriPlat, I do carry 3 other compasses with me. I never truly depend on any one device to get me out of trouble.

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Just a heads up...

 

The Northfinder works great if you can determine the position of the sun or the moon. In deep woods or a very cloudy day... this could be a problem.

Very good point. An extremely cloudy day makes it difficult, as does night caching on a moonless night. Most times, however, the position of the sun can be determined fairly easily.

 

Again, I do carry a compass with me (2, actually; one "ball-type" clipped to my pack's shoulder strap and a Silva in the pack itself). I've yet to need one to find a cache however (although I will admit that I do occasionally double check my Northfinder's opinion against the ball-type on those cloudy days).

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I do carry a compass with me (2, actually; one "ball-type" clipped to my pack's shoulder strap and a Silva in the pack itself).  I've yet to need one to find a cache however

I’m not a big proponent of compasses for cacheing, and use one rarely (one time in maybe 15-20 caches), but there are times I don’t quite understand how you get away without using one. The time I need it is when the terrain requires I move very slowly and in an irregular pattern such as a forested area with lots of undergrowth. When I have to pick my way through a tangle of bramble the gadget cannot figure out my heading and thus can’t point in the correct direction. I only use a compass under conditions like this. But, in these conditions it’s not practical (or at least would be very unpleasant and time consuming) to wander around hunting. It can take me several minutes to work my way to the cache location even when I know about where it is. How do you navigate to a cache under such conditions, particularly on an overcast day?

Edited by Thot
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I do carry a compass with me (2, actually; one "ball-type" clipped to my pack's shoulder strap and a Silva in the pack itself).  I've yet to need one to find a cache however

I’m not a big proponent of compasses for cacheing, and use one rarely (one time in maybe 15-20 caches), but there are times I don’t quite understand how you get away without using one. The time I need it is when the terrain requires I move very slowly and in an irregular pattern such as a forested area with lots of undergrowth. When I have to pick my way through a tangle of bramble the gadget cannot figure out my heading and thus can’t point in the correct direction. I only use a compass under conditions like this. But, in these conditions it’s not practical (or at least would be very unpleasant and time consuming) to wander around hunting. It can take me several minutes to work my way to the cache location even when I know about where it is. How do you navigate to a cache under such conditions, particularly on an overcast day?

This cache that I referenced above was similar, and just before midnight. That's where using the GOTO function with the electronic floating compass came in so handy. I didn't worry about mapped position, just distance away shown, EPE shown and the compass bearing to the cache. I'll try to get a picture up soon to show how that works.

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Regarding Thot's example; The undergrowth would be a non-issue in regards to a compass. If I can't determine the sun's position accurately (very heavy cloud cover or moonless night), then I would indeed have to take a glance at the ball-style compass on my pack's strap to help line up my GPS's compass rose. Using a cheap compass (even one that may be off 10 degrees or so) is still going to be more than accurate enough to keep me headed towards the cache. If you are trying to use a compass bearing to get to within feet of the cache, the whole premise is flawed anyway since the closer you get to the cache, the more the bearing readout of the GPS is compromised by the very accuracy of it's own position; so again, a cheap compass would be sufficient.

 

Regarding Totem's example; only a lack of moon would be a problem there. And if that was the case, then yes, I would want to pull out my better compass to make sure I was walking at the correct bearing called for in the cache page.

Edited by 4x4van
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Thot, were you actually losing satellite lockup? I use a Garmin Geko 201 in growth just as dense as that with no problem. If its merely growth, I don't have a problem. If its growth and hills, then there's a problem. I've only had a problem with dense trees and being on the north side of a hill.

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Just wanted to add my $0.02:

 

I'm a newbie who just got a Magellan eXplorist 300 for xmas. After a few excursions where I walked in circles much more than necessary, I finally figured out using the compass feature with GoTo. It ROCKS! It shows you exactly which way to move and how far away you are. I can't imagine doing it any other way now.

 

FWIW, my wife is a forester and does lots of work with map/compass. She spent the big bucks on a nice Silva, and she swears by it.

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Thot, were you actually losing satellite lockup?  I use a Garmin Geko 201 in growth just as dense as that with no problem. 

No. I have signal. But in thick bramble you can't move fast enough for the gadget to know your heading and thus it can't point to the cache. It has signal so it know the bearing. I put the bearing in my compass to show me which way to work my way towards in the dense undergrowth.

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