Navigation; The Compass and Map

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Maverick

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I haven't seen much on the subject here regarding compasses or even navigation and when I do see a compass being mentioned it's generally in the form of 'a compass' whenever anyone mentions their gear omitting make and model. A good 'practical' compass is as valuable as any gear in the bag (worth mentioning make and model) though it's the least talked about gear when talking about bugging out or what is in the bug out bags or hikes. This post is a rough overview not a tutorial given that a compass/navigation tutorial are widely available. There are many good compasses other than what is noted here such as the German made K&R Sherpa that is durable also designed to eliminate the bubble issue at higher elevations under extreme temps, I don't own one but have used one and is worth mentioning here.

I've seen recommendations all over the internet recommending Military issued Lensatic Compasses thus I'm probably going to upset a few people here by saying the USGI compass is NOT the best compass and in most cases for us civilians it's the worst compass choice for our intended purpose thus money wasted (reasons noted below). My love for navigation has always been the older ways I always preferred the compass, protractors, scaled rulers and good maps over a GPS not that the GPS is bad just that people become to reliant on them becoming complacent. Here are a few pictures of my compasses and the tools that are used (below). I do have a GPS though it is never my first choice in the field, I strictly use the GPS for UTM coordinates for specific jobs or quick validation. I would also suggest learning to use pace count beads, this practice goes back to the Roman era and some military units adapted this old Roman practice, you will be surprised how affective this is in navigation once you determine your packed/unpacked pace, example; 300ft/60 paces equals 5 feet per pace so in one mile you would have walked 1056 paces, to figure your pace, if you start off on the left (or right) foot starting the pace by counting every time the right (or left) foot hits the ground, 200 feet is bare minimum for checking your pace, I recommend 600 feet (a football field up and back) do this with a full pack and without a pack and if you are really adventures you can check your pace with full pack at what is known as ruck marches (loaded marches) this will give you an idea what your paces are under different conditions that can be utilized in navigation this is where the pace count beads come in handy ;)

The Gear

Transit Compass U.S. M2
Lensatic Compass stocker & yale U.S. nsn 6605-00-151-5337
Baseplate Suunto M-3G (Global) Compass
Baseplate Suunto MC-2 USGS (mirror/sighting) Compass
Baseplate Brunton 8096 GPS Eclipse
Baseplate Brunton 9010G Classic
Baseplate Silva 1051 Pathfinder BSA compass
Baseplate Silva Polaris
Baseplate Tokyo Compass (TC) Field Compass No.86
Magellan 315 GPS
Pace counter beads
Protractors and rulers for various map scaling
Staedtler map markers and eraser (not pictured)
Notepad (waterproof) and pencil

gear.jpg



Practically all my current working maps are 7.5 minute maps 1:24,000 scale the official replacement of the USGS 15 minute maps 1:62,500. I have a few 1:25,000 scale maps that's generally used outside the US (though some US states are using this scale in certain areas of the state) and 1:50,000 also known as Military maps (both the 1:25,000 and 1:50,000 are popular mapping scales in Europe). majority of my 7.5 minute maps have both long/lat and UTM lines/ticks that work handedly with compasses and GPS. Note: Make sure the compass scale matches the maps being used, make sure the maps have the current declination. Most printed original USGS maps have the wrong declination on them given that a good number of USGS maps sold today by the USGS are dated around 1998 some older some newer, you may need to call places like REI or look on the internet for the correct declination or use this link: http://www.ngdc.noaa.gov/geomag-web/ (this link works world wide) Some companies that reprint USGS maps adjust for the current declination such as MyTopo. Note: Scaling variation; Puerto Rico, which is mapped at 1:20,000 and 1:30,000, and for a few States (not the whole state) have been mapped at 1:25,000 roughly 13 states use 1:25,000 in parts of their states. Most of Alaska has been mapped at 1:63,360, with some Alaskan populated areas mapped at 1:24,000 and 1:25,000 that's why it's imperative to have the correct scale on both map and compass and if you notice 1:50,000 scale isn't hardly used in the states that the USGI lensatic compass is scaled towards.

A word regarding declination, We have map bearing and magnetic bearing. If we are navigating to a specific area on the map we are using map bearing therefore declination needs to be known and adjusted accordingly, here's an example of not adjusting for declination; in 10 miles of walking and your declination is 1deg off you are 920ft off course, 5deg you are 4600ft off course, 10deg you are 9170ft off course, my declination is 16deg that would put me 2.78 miles (14,690ft) off course. Some maps may use grid north (GN) don't confuse this with true north (TN) in many cases they are not the same usually a 2deg difference between (TN) to that of (GN) on a few maps (left picture below) , a number of maps will have MN/TN/GN markers/arrows as illustrated below, so pay attention to the map. Generally I would use the GN if using UTM though most of the time I use TN, on a number of my maps TN and GN are the same (as illustrated in my map below right picture 2)

Declination.jpg
<1 - 2>
magdec.jpg


This gif below shows how declination changes over the years

Earth_Magnetic_Field_Declination_from_1590_to_1990.gif


When my kids where little we use to play a fast pace sport called orienteering as a way for my kids to learn navigational scales under pressure, a sport I recommend in honing ones navigational scales in a fast pace setting though not a replacement for learning wilderness navigation ;)

Today, I generally take two compass in the field with me (unless I'm also using a GPS) both being baseplate's, the Suunto MC-2 and the Suunto M-3G Global if using a GPS I may take the Brunton Eclipse (most of the time I just use a UTM protractor instead of the Eclipse) all three are Inch with 1:24,000 scale, the Eclipse is a good UTM compass and the Suunto M-3G can be used in both the Northern or Southern hemisphere though one of the benefits with the global needle design is fast needle damping and not having to perfectly level the compass for accurate reading, accurate to a 20deg tilt. All three have declination adjustment and both the Suunto's have clinometer's. My Wife prefers and uses the Suunto MC-2, the the most used feature she uses on the compass is the clinometer for taking strike and dip readings for her geo projects, the clinometer can be used for taking slope readings to warn of possible avalanches in areas one is unfamiliar with, generally a slope below 28 degrees is safe with critical terrain being between 28/44 degrees, more to a good compass then just pointing North ;) As shown below the clinometer (black arrow) will use the deg scale, the same scale that is used for the declination adjustment.

clinometer.jpg



My Compasses

The Silva 1051 Pathfinder
My old Boy Scout compass I recieved in the 60s this being my second compass replacing my very first compass that was a hand me down the Taylor compass (bakelite) while I was in the scouts

The Suunto MC-2 mirror compass (made in Finland):
A very nice sighting compass similar to the Silva Ranger compass, My goto compass, the magnifier is slightly more then x5 (good fire starting) and the sighting mirror (signaling/shaving/light amplification) multiple uses ;)

The Suunto M-3G Global compass (made in Finland):
A damn good compass worthy of being the primary compass in any setting, my backup to the MC-2

The Silva Polaris compass (made in Finland by Suunto):
A good basic backup compass, 1 of 2 last of my Silva compasses

The Brunton Eclipse:
A good UTM compass, I'm not a major fan of the circle over circle alignment also keep in mind parallax error can easily be an issue if not careful or have an prism imbalance in the eye's though that's an possible issue with most compasses.

The Brunton 9010G classic (made in U.S.):
A good basic compass, inexpensive backup though I don't like the grid lines placement on this compass, very similar to the Silva Voyager (made by Brunton)

The TC No. 86 (metric) (made in Japan):
An ok compass 1:25,000/1:63,360 scaling

The M2:
Of all the Military gear I've been around and worked with while in the Military this one piece of equipment caused more heartburn and heartaches than any other, though heavy for basic use and like the USGI compass it's geared towards Mils, it's basically a militarized surveyors compass. This compass like the USGI compass are not practical for general field work, kind of a love hate relationship here.

The U.S. Military issued lensatic compass:
Widely popular (for the wrong reasons) though not practical, I don't use it for navigation with my maps or even take it into the field given the ruler (meters) scale on this compass is only for 1:50,000 maps. The U.S. Military issued lensatic compass (USGI compass) is neither particularly accurate as one would think or as rock solid as you would expect. It's accuracy is only tested to within 2.5 degrees It's readability isn't that great for civilian use, unless you use 'mils' when trekking instead of degrees and even then not great (the compass card gives preference to the mils scale). It's not well designed for use with the U.S. Topo or modern USGS quads, since new U.S. Topo maps are still arranged in the 7.5-minute quadrangle format, which require a 1:24,000 scale usually found only on baseplate compasses sold in the States, The USGI lensatic uses the military 1:50,000 scale which is only useful for military maps and limited at that, and you still have to carry an protractor to obtain course headings from the map. Note; my experience is with the older stocker & yale not the newer CMMG though I would suspect the newer manufacture as not being that much of a difference from the old. With all that is said I love this compass it's been with me through a lot of hell though today I wont use it as a civilian in the field, ask yourself this question 'how come the pro's don't use it'? as noted below ;) Now, if you are still hell-bent on using this compass get the Super GTA protractor from maptools Here: https://www.maptools.com/product/SuperGTA to convert Mils to Deg plus works with several map scales or learn to use this Deg>Mil - Mil>Deg formula 'Degrees / 5.625 = MIL or invert the operation to go from MIL > Degrees'

Practically all alpine mountaineering teams, wilderness rescue, as well as most armies of the world now use baseplate compasses including some of our US military units for field navigation, one of the popular compasses for Army Rangers and British SAS are the Silva military version of the Expedition 54 with an accuracy of +/-0.5 degrees (Silva of Sweden NATO 54B (4B-6400/360 NATO) ;) I know, we Americans love our US made military gear me included though some gear is best left at home on a shelf or on the wall and both the M2 and USGI Lensatic compasses are such a gear! given one's life may depend on bugout/survival navigation thus lets 'be practical not cool'
 
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Silent Earth

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Great article, well laid out and clear and concise.

I only ever use the Silva Type 4 Tritium compass in both Mils 360 and degrees 6400, its the only type I trust. but on my watch I use a Sunnto micro compass affixed to the strap.

I wont EVER use a GPS since I remember the antics of your SAC in the cold war when they kept moving the settings so the bloody Russians could not use the US GPS system to direct THEIR nukes at Conus
 

toexist

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I haven't seen much on the subject here regarding compasses or even navigation and when I do see a compass being mentioned it's generally in the form of 'a compass' whenever anyone mentions their gear omitting make and model. A good 'practical' compass is as valuable as any gear in the bag (worth mentioning make and model) though it's the least talked about gear when talking about bugging out or what is in the bug out bags or hikes. This post is a rough overview not a tutorial given that a compass/navigation tutorial are widely available. There are many good compasses other than what is noted here such as the German made K&R Sherpa that is durable also designed to eliminate the bubble issue at higher elevations under extreme temps, I don't own one but have used one and is worth mentioning here.

I've seen recommendations all over the internet recommending Military issued Lensatic Compasses thus I'm probably going to upset a few people here by saying the USGI compass is NOT the best compass and in most cases for us civilians it's the worst compass choice for our intended purpose thus money wasted (reasons noted below). My love for navigation has always been the older ways I always preferred the compass, protractors, scaled rulers and good maps over a GPS not that the GPS is bad just that people become to reliant on them becoming complacent. Here are a few pictures of my compasses and the tools that are used (below). I do have a GPS though it is never my first choice in the field, I strictly use the GPS for UTM coordinates for specific jobs or quick validation. I would also suggest learning to use pace count beads, this practice goes back to the Roman era and some military units adapted this old Roman practice, you will be surprised how affective this is in navigation once you determine your packed/unpacked pace, example; 300ft/60 paces equals 5 feet per pace so in one mile you would have walked 1056 paces, to figure your pace, if you start off on the left (or right) foot starting the pace by counting every time the right (or left) foot hits the ground, 200 feet is bare minimum for checking your pace, I recommend 600 feet (a football field up and back) do this with a full pack and without a pack and if you are really adventures you can check your pace with full pack at what is known as ruck marches (loaded marches) this will give you an idea what your paces are under different conditions that can be utilized in navigation this is where the pace count beads come in handy ;)

The Gear

Transit Compass U.S. M2
Lensatic Compass stocker & yale U.S. nsn 6605-00-151-5337
Baseplate Suunto M-3G (Global) Compass
Baseplate Suunto MC-2 USGS (mirror/sighting) Compass
Baseplate Brunton 8096 GPS Eclipse
Baseplate Brunton 9010G Classic
Baseplate Silva 1051 Pathfinder BSA compass
Baseplate Silva Polaris
Baseplate Tokyo Compass (TC) Field Compass No.86
Magellan 315 GPS
Pace counter beads
Protractors and rulers for various map scaling
Staedtler map markers and eraser (not pictured)
Notepad (waterproof) and pencil

View attachment 4493


Practically all my current working maps are 7.5 minute maps 1:24,000 scale the official replacement of the USGS 15 minute maps 1:62,500. I have a few 1:25,000 scale maps that's generally used outside the US (though some US states are using this scale in certain areas of the state) and 1:50,000 also known as Military maps (both the 1:25,000 and 1:50,000 are popular mapping scales in Europe). majority of my 7.5 minute maps have both long/lat and UTM lines/ticks that work handedly with compasses and GPS. Note: Make sure the compass scale matches the maps being used, make sure the maps have the current declination. Most printed original USGS maps have the wrong declination on them given that a good number of USGS maps sold today by the USGS are dated around 1998 some older some newer, you may need to call places like REI or look on the internet for the correct declination or use this link: http://www.ngdc.noaa.gov/geomag-web/ (this link works world wide) Some companies that reprint USGS maps adjust for the current declination such as MyTopo. Note: Scaling variation; Puerto Rico, which is mapped at 1:20,000 and 1:30,000, and for a few States (not the whole state) have been mapped at 1:25,000 roughly 13 states use 1:25,000 in parts of their states. Most of Alaska has been mapped at 1:63,360, with some Alaskan populated areas mapped at 1:24,000 and 1:25,000 that's why it's imperative to have the correct scale on both map and compass and if you notice 1:50,000 scale isn't hardly used in the states that the USGI lensatic compass is scaled towards.

A word regarding declination, We have map bearing and magnetic bearing. If we are navigating to a specific area on the map we are using map bearing therefore declination needs to be known and adjusted accordingly, here's an example of not adjusting for declination; in 10 miles of walking and your declination is 1deg off you are 920ft off course, 5deg you are 4600ft off course, 10deg you are 9170ft off course, my declination is 16deg that would put me 2.78 miles (14,690ft) off course. Some maps may use grid north (GN) don't confuse this with true north (TN) in many cases they are not the same usually a 2deg difference between (TN) to that of (GN) on a few maps (left picture below) , a number of maps will have MN/TN/GN markers/arrows as illustrated below, so pay attention to the map. Generally I would use the GN if using UTM though most of the time I use TN, on a number of my maps TN and GN are the same (as illustrated in my map below right picture 2)

View attachment 4494 <1 - 2> View attachment 4495

This gif below shows how declination changes over the years

View attachment 4496

When my kids where little we use to play a fast pace sport called orienteering as a way for my kids to learn navigational scales under pressure, a sport I recommend in honing ones navigational scales in a fast pace setting though not a replacement for learning wilderness navigation ;)

Today, I generally take two compass in the field with me (unless I'm also using a GPS) both being baseplate's, the Suunto MC-2 and the Suunto M-3G Global if using a GPS I may take the Brunton Eclipse (most of the time I just use a UTM protractor instead of the Eclipse) all three are Inch with 1:24,000 scale, the Eclipse is a good UTM compass and the Suunto M-3G can be used in both the Northern or Southern hemisphere though one of the benefits with the global needle design is fast needle damping and not having to perfectly level the compass for accurate reading, accurate to a 20deg tilt. All three have declination adjustment and both the Suunto's have clinometer's. My Wife prefers and uses the Suunto MC-2, the the most used feature she uses on the compass is the clinometer for taking strike and dip readings for her geo projects, the clinometer can be used for taking slope readings to warn of possible avalanches in areas one is unfamiliar with, generally a slope below 28 degrees is safe with critical terrain being between 28/44 degrees, more to a good compass then just pointing North ;) As shown below the clinometer (black arrow) will use the deg scale, the same scale that is used for the declination adjustment.

View attachment 4497


My Compasses

The Silva 1051 Pathfinder
My old Boy Scout compass I recieved in the 60s this being my second compass replacing my very first compass that was a hand me down the Taylor compass (bakelite) while I was in the scouts

The Suunto MC-2 mirror compass (made in Finland):
A very nice sighting compass similar to the Silva Ranger compass, My goto compass, the magnifier is slightly more then x5 (good fire starting) and the sighting mirror (signaling/shaving/light amplification) multiple uses ;)

The Suunto M-3G Global compass (made in Finland):
A damn good compass worthy of being the primary compass in any setting, my backup to the MC-2

The Silva Polaris compass (made in Finland by Suunto):
A good basic backup compass, 1 of 2 last of my Silva compasses

The Brunton Eclipse:
A good UTM compass, I'm not a major fan of the circle over circle alignment also keep in mind parallax error can easily be an issue if not careful or have an prism imbalance in the eye's though that's an possible issue with most compasses.

The Brunton 9010G classic (made in U.S.):
A good basic compass, inexpensive backup though I don't like the grid lines placement on this compass, very similar to the Silva Voyager (made by Brunton)

The TC No. 86 (metric) (made in Japan):
An ok compass 1:25,000/1:63,360 scaling

The M2:
Of all the Military gear I've been around and worked with while in the Military this one piece of equipment caused more heartburn and heartaches than any other, though heavy for basic use and like the USGI compass it's geared towards Mils, it's basically a militarized surveyors compass. This compass like the USGI compass are not practical for general field work, kind of a love hate relationship here.

The U.S. Military issued lensatic compass:
Widely popular (for the wrong reasons) though not practical, I don't use it for navigation with my maps or even take it into the field given the ruler (meters) scale on this compass is only for 1:50,000 maps. The U.S. Military issued lensatic compass (USGI compass) is neither particularly accurate as one would think or as rock solid as you would expect. It's accuracy is only tested to within 2.5 degrees It's readability isn't that great for civilian use, unless you use 'mils' when trekking instead of degrees and even then not great (the compass card gives preference to the mils scale). It's not well designed for use with the U.S. Topo or modern USGS quads, since new U.S. Topo maps are still arranged in the 7.5-minute quadrangle format, which require a 1:24,000 scale usually found only on baseplate compasses sold in the States, The USGI lensatic uses the military 1:50,000 scale which is only useful for military maps and limited at that, and you still have to carry an protractor to obtain course headings from the map. Note; my experience is with the older stocker & yale not the newer CMMG though I would suspect the newer manufacture as not being that much of a difference from the old. With all that is said I love this compass it's been with me through a lot of hell though today I wont use it as a civilian in the field, ask yourself this question 'how come the pro's don't use it'? as noted below ;) Now, if you are still hell-bent on using this compass get the Super GTA protractor from maptools Here: https://www.maptools.com/product/SuperGTA to convert Mils to Deg plus works with several map scales or learn to use this Deg>Mil - Mil>Deg formula 'Degrees / 5.625 = MIL or invert the operation to go from MIL > Degrees'

Practically all alpine mountaineering teams, wilderness rescue, as well as most armies of the world now use baseplate compasses including some of our US military units for field navigation, one of the popular compasses for Army Rangers and British SAS are the Silva military version of the Expedition 54 with an accuracy of +/-0.5 degrees (Silva of Sweden NATO 54B (4B-6400/360 NATO) ;) I know, we Americans love our US made military gear me included though some gear is best left at home on a shelf or on the wall and both the M2 and USGI Lensatic compasses are such a gear! given one's life may depend on bugout/survival navigation thus lets 'be practical not cool'
giphy (5).gif

Richard-Dean-Anderson-in-Macgyver.jpg


Geez Maverick, your like a modern day MacGyver. Impressive.

I have a compass on my phone...with spare batteries to boot. Technology...i hope it doesn't fail me...for that would suck.
 

Arcticdude

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Good information Mav. I have several types of compass. Although I can't remember the brands now. One compass belonged to my great grandfather when he worked for the railroad in the 1800's. I think map and compass reading is critical for anyone who spends a lot of time outdoors. It's pretty easy to navigate in my area as most mountain ranges and most rivers generally trend north/south. I do use GPS for marking trap locations, but would never count on one for serious navagation. Many areas around here are too steep for the satilite signal making GPS unreliable.
 

Maverick

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The National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and British Geological Survey has released the world magnetic model 2020 update Dec.10 so update your maps to the latest declination for your area or get new ones, make sure it's 2020 update. Also in this WMM release they will include compass black outs in the new model.
 

Maverick

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Hey Mav, gotta direct website for those maps? Download and print? Colors?
Almost all the navigational maps including terrain maps from the countries local geological mapping authority should have the updated declination's on them, you may have to ask if it's the 2020 update, here in the US it would be the USGS in Britain it would be the BGS etc.. For the US I get a lot of my maps from https://www.mytopo.com/ which they update the declination in between the 5 year updates.
 

Selivan

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Since I walk through the forest quickly and often find my bearings, I use simple compasses that can be quickly removed from my breast pocket without stopping my movement.
In this case, cheap compasses have advantages and disadvantages:
1.Compass without liquid:
the arrow stops quickly, but since the compass shakes when walking, there is a risk that the arrow comes off the base.
2. Compass with liquid: takes a while for the needle to stop. Bubbles appear over time.
But the liquid protects against shaking.

----------
When I was 6 years old, Father gave me the "Adrianov's compass".
It has no liquid and has a needle locking system, so it is not afraid of shaking.
Adrianov's old compasses contained radioactive elements to illuminate the dial, but these have been excluded since the 1950s.
maxresdefault.jpg

------------
I don't use professional GPS navigators ,instead, take GPS and Glonass navigation on an ordinary tablet phone
---------
About 15 years ago, when there were no tablets with built-in GPS and antenna,
I used:
- netbook
- external active antenna
- gpstrakemaker program
- Google maps offline in the memory cache.
it was a good system, it allowed you to record tracks. this is very convenient when picking mushrooms, so as not to go twice to the same places.
 

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