Updated: Nov 10, 2022
The thought of hiking with a compass these days can sound a little over the top for some but a must for others and there are many reasons to not retire your compass quite yet, especially with the current reliability of modern day technologies and their batteries such as your GPS. Having a compass in your bag, ready to go can be a very important tool especially when these pieces of tech we bring with us breakdown on any trails that aren't typically well trafficked or well-marked and you then find yourself needing to navigate using ‘older’ methods like a compass.
As I said above, the number one reason you should carry a compass is when technology breaks down but there are many more reasons than just that to carry a compass including budget hiking. Compasses can be picked up for relatively cheap prices especially in comparison to the GPS devices which can get quite pricy for people on a budget so choosing this option for your navigation can make hiking in a safe manor more accessible for people who can’t afford the best of the best hiking gear, which is probably most of us. Having a cheaper option for navigation while also being lighter and more fool proof sounds great and that is why I am personally astonished that more people don't use a compass over GPS’s.
Emergency situations are another time that compasses can come into use even if you have a GPS or other navigation device with you, having this backup is a great idea especially because it only weighs as little as just 50 grams. This light safety solution seems to only have positives but there are some negatives that become apparent when you start to understand how to use your compass. If you are using one for the first time, figuring out bearings, true and magnetic north along with how to get a correct direction from your compass means there is quite a bit of a barrier when it comes to using one for the first time. This barrier is what blocks most from turning to the classic compass in alternative to your GPS or easy to use smartphone navigation apps but as we spoke about above there is many reasons why these alternatives are not that trustworthy especially in an activity that is full of unknowns like hiking is.
Even if there is a barrier to learning the basics of a compass, there is no denying that they are an important item to carry with you no matter what hike you are on and in an emergency could just save your life if your more technological items broke down. Learning how to use one can be made far simpler than reading every manual online simply by hopping on YouTube and taking a 5 minute lesson to get on top of the basics and at least know how to use it if worst came to worst.
So in conclusion, it's always a good idea to carry some sort of gear with you that is reasonably fool proof like a compass and can’t be affected by the isolation of hiking in deep forests that shield you from the signals, grid and society that most of our technology relies on. Taking an item such as a compass has little to no affect on you and the weight of your pack but when things turn south and you find yourself in trouble you will be well looked after by your robust tool known as a compass. So next time you pass by your local hiking shop, make sure to pop in and pick up a compass because they are a great tool for you to have out on the trail.
As a final note, it's important to remember your map otherwise your compass becomes, well… useless and just an extra dead weight in your bag which is not ideal, hiking without your map also has other consequences like not knowing where you are going and getting completely lost and then having no idea how to get help. So if you pack your compass make sure to also pack that trusty map as that little piece of paper makes almost every hike possible.
Written by Josh Welch