Why compass is still important hiking equipment

With modern technology it is easy to overlook simple navigation equipment like compass in your hiking trips. You have GPS with maps and you have your smart phone even with GPS and maps, you know exactly where you are.

The drawback of this technology Is that it´s powered by battery packs that can run out of power. What are you going to to when that happens?

Compass is easy to use. It´s a lightweight device that you can have hanging from your backpack or hanging around your neck. It is all about having it in a reachable spot during your hike.  The biggest advantage is it does not run out of battery and it can tolerate bad weather and rain.

As a part of search and rescue team, INLHQ team members where reminded about the importance of proper navigation tools when called out searching for hunter that got lost in the Icelandic high lands for two days. Over 400 team members looked for him for over to days in tough conditions.

Fortunately the hunter survived and was found on the third day of searching.

But the moral of the story is this, if correctly equipped this huge search had never taken place.

Compass navigation

How does compass work?

Compass is a simple tool that works with the earth magnetic field. The magnetic field runs between north pole and the south pole. The compass points in the same direction as the earth magnetic field and showing us in what direction we are walking compared to the magnetic field.

For simple navigation you hold your device in front of you with your arm straight out so you are like a pointer. Now you can read from it in what direction you are looking.

When you have decided in what direction to walk you look at the compass and it will give you the direction. When you start walking you can look at it regularly to see if you are heading in the right direction.

For more advance use you can take direction from map and put it in your compass to get between two point. You can as well take direction from the compass and put it down on maps to see what is in head of you. This methodology has been used through the centuries in navigation.

Learn how to navigate like the pros

What type of compass

There are many tapes of compasses available and for simple navigation all of them works. You can have:

  • Simple hiking compasses to take heading.
  • Durable metal compasses.
  • Baseplate compasses specially made for maps.

Avoid all compasses mounted on key rings and wrist bands, a fun toys not made for hiking.

INLHQ prefer baseplate compasses used with maps. They are light weight and durable. The prices varices based on features and build quality / durability and the prices are in the 9$ – 100$ range.

The basic features in a baseplate compass are following:

  • Magnetised needle that points to the magnetic north.
  • Rotating bezel (or azimuth ring) that adjusts the heading
  • Baseplate with build in rulers to use on maps.
  • Orienting arrows and lines to work with maps.

Other features to consider when buying compass are:

  • Declination adjustment to account for difference between the magnetic pole and north pole.
  • Sighting mirror for more precise navigation.
  • Clinometer to measure hill angle for avalanche risk etc.
  • Global needle for world travellers.

What to be aware of when using compass

So compass is great little device that is easy to use. But it has weaknesses that can easily be worked around if known.

Electrical devices can affect the accuracy, but you will decrease the risk by putting your arm straight out from your body when navigating. Power lines can also affect your compass, just be a ware of it when you cross area with powerlines (normally around 100 meters / 300 feet’s each side of the powerline.)

And above all do not have magnet or equipment with magnets anywhere near the compass when navigating it´s will affect the accuracy greatly. It can also affect the accuracy to store the compass near magnet for long period of time even though it is not near the compass during hiking.

Remember to take good care of it during hikes and as well back home. Do not store the compass near magnetic or electric fields then it will work just fine.


Compass and map are essential part of your hiking gear even if it is only for short hikes it can be your life safer. It will continue to work when other devices are out of power or stopped working due to weather (cold, rain and water etc.).

Learn how to navigate like the pros