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Feeling a Little Disoriented Today? Could Be Because It's 'Marooned Without a Compass Day'

In the U.S., today is not only Election Day, it is Marooned Without a Compass Day. Why? Couldn’t tell you. Even the internet can’t explain it. It just is.

Equally cloudy is the historical origin of the compass itself. The Facts on File database speculates that people of China, prior to 1040 AD, discovered by accident a floating magnetized needle would always point in the same direction.

Wikipedia cites a reference to a “mysterious needle” in Chinese writing dating back to 923. Allusions to magnetism can be traced back to the 4th century BC.

Yeah, well, so? The compass is a forgotten relic in the era of GPS receivers, right?

Hardly. The compass remains a valuable and reliable navigational tool in 2012 and will likely forever hold that position. Just ask Steve Wood, a GPS zealot and REI Outdoor School navigation instructor in the San Francisco Bay Area:

Q: Do you think a compass is useful these days?

Steve: While a GPS can be fast and simple to use, it still relies on batteries which can fail you when needed (see Murphy’s Law). A compass is light, small and always works.

Q: So do you still use a compass?

Steve: A compass speeds up the process of orienting your topo map and can quickly aim you along your chosen path. I recently spent a day navigating along a snow-covered trail and found the compass faster to use and more convenient than my GPS. At the end of the day, we found our campsite and looked at the GPS tracklog which had recorded our wanderings by compass. We were dead-on the trail despite the snow.

Want more confirmation? Ask a wilderness ranger. You’ll hear the same answer: Every outdoor wanderer should own a compass. REI offers a bunch.

Need help figuring out which one is best for you? Check out our REI Expert Advice article, How to Choose a Compass. Steve Wood wrote it, and it's handy.

Need help understanding how to use it? REI Outdoor School offers navigation classes and outings in 14 markets across the country.

Parting thought on Marooned Without A Compass Day: If Bugs Bunny considered a fellow cartoon character to be a dunce, he'd say “What a maroon.” (Nov. 8 is National Dunce Day, by the way.) Our advice: Don’t be a dunce. Don't get marooned. Get a compass and master it.


Steve Wood, right, studies contours on a map with an REI Outdoor School student. (T.D. Wood photo)

Posted on at 8:15 AM

Tagged: REI Expert Advice, compass and gps receivers

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