Knowing how to use compass when lost is obviously one of the most important basic survival skills. Have you ever watched one of those movies where a bunch of friends embark on an adventure in the wilderness and end up getting lost? Ever noticed that none of them ever has a compass and have to endure incredible challenges before they finally find their way home?
One key lesson you should learn from watching survival movies is, never go an adventure to a place whose geography you are not familiar with, without a guide or at least a compass. It’s one thing to enjoy the thrill of riding into an unknown place, it’s another to get lost and be faced with the challenges of being in an unfamiliar landscape. So, make sure that your bug out bag includes compass and that most importantly you know how to use compass and navigate using it.
Why a compass?
The primary benefit of owning a compass is to avoid getting lost. This small device has been used for centuries for orientation and navigation. In fact, the first people to use the compass were the Chinese.
The magnetic compass was the very first compass to be invented and it was invented in China during the reign of the Han Dynasty around 300 BC. While the early versions of the device were primitive, they worked just as well as the modern compasses. Despite their mediocre structure, they were accurate and effective.
But, what most people do not know is that compasses have for long been used for other purposes other than navigation. Originally, compasses were used for the positioning of buildings commonly referred to as building orientation. They were also used by miners for tunneling and by fortune-tellers for divination.
Generally, a compass is used for finding direction on land or sea. It has a magnetic needle which is always pointing towards the Earth’s magnetic north pole. There are four cardinal points on a compass; North, South, East and West labeled as N, E, S and W and four ordinal points; South East, North East, South West and North West labeled as SE, NE, SW and NW.
These cardinal points or directions indicate your current position and help you maintain your bearings.
How to use Compass
- Distinguish between magnetic north and true north
The compass always points towards the direction of the magnetic north, which corresponds with the magnetic field lines on the Earth’s surface. On the other hand, True North which is also referred to as the geodetic north or the geographical north is the direction on the Earth’s surface that points towards the North Pole. The angle between true north and magnetic north is called the magnetic declination. Been able to know the difference between the two norths’ helps you understand the directional readings on your compass based on the direction your compass arrow points to.
- Avoid using your compass near metal objects
Metal objects tend to interfere with compass readings and you may lose your direction if you use your compass in a building, inside your car or near anything that has a metallic surface. It is recommended that you use your compass a few meters away from any metallic object.
- Hold the compass correctly
You will be surprised to know that not many people know how to hold a compass correctly. The correct way to hold a compass is by placing it flat on the palm of your hand and let your palm be next to your chest. This is referred to as the centerhold technique. Hold the compass steadily as you can and rotate your body without rotating the compass and do this until you are facing in the direction you need to be facing.
For example, if you want to go west and you know west equals 270 degrees on the compass. Hold the compass as previously described and rotate your body until you are facing west. Then take a look at your surroundings and pinpoint an object that is in the direction that you are going, then walk in that direction towards your destination.
If you have a map, place it on a flat surface, and then place the compass on top of it and hold it firmly in place. Then align the arrow and orienting lines on your compass with the longitude lines on your map. Ensure that the orienting arrow is pointing North on the map, which is usually on top of the map. Once you have accomplished this, you should be able to easily pinpoint your destination. For instance, if you want to get to a particular road and it is on the left side of the map, this means that, that is west. Therefore, since west is 270 degrees, you can now use those bearings to get the particular road.
- Familiarize yourself with the area
When you are in unfamiliar landscape, the worst thing you can do is miss landmarks that can help you find your way back. If are hiking in an area that is not familiar to you, and you have a map and a compass, use both items to learn about the area. If you see a landmark, use your compass to take a bearing on it and plot it on your map. Identify any other features around the particular landmark and this will help you identify the particular landmark on the map. By doing this, you will easily and quickly know the area and this will lessen your chances of getting lost.
- Reverse Bearing
The reverse bearing technique is a neat trick that you can use to help you find your way back to where you started off. The simplest way to find the reverse bearing is by adding 180 degrees to the initial bearing that is if the bearing was equal to or less than 180 degrees. For instance, the reverse bearing for the initial bearing of 120 is 120+180=300 degrees, which is North West.
Below is an excellent video to watch about how to navigate with a compass
What to do if you get lost?
If you get lost, it is important that you remain calm and try avoid panicking. Many people who get lost in the woods become disoriented and tend to wander around getting nowhere. The first thing is to keep calm and think. Then take a good look at your surroundings and try to spot a landmark that is familiar to you. If you are cannot find one from where you are standing, climb a tree or get to high ground to see if you can find one.
If you have a compass, use it to find your way out. If you do not have one, pay attention to the sunset or sunrise because it will help determine your location. The sun always rises on the east and sets on the west. If you know this, then you should be able to navigate your location a lot more easily and eventually, find your way out.
Consider leaving markings, such as broken branches, tree branch, stuck rocks or anything that can stand out that will indicate the direction you are taking or the path you are on. This will ensure that you are on a straight path and not walking in circles. It also helps a lot in case you decide to backtrack.
In case it gets dark and you have not made it out, build a fire big enough to keep you warm all through the night and make it easier for people to locate you. If you do not know how to build a fire, build a shelter using whatever natural materials you can find, such as leaves and branches. This temporary shelter will help keep the heat in and protect you from wind, rain and the cold.
Above all, always ensure that somebody knows where you are, especially, if you decide to go on an adventure in the wilderness. Inform a relative or friend about your trip and include important details, such as where you are going, your date and time of departure as well when you will be getting back.