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General Compass Question Plus Brand Suggestions

Hello! As someone who tends to accidentally go off-trail from time to time, I'm planning to rely less on  trail apps (which have sometimes been the cause of off-trail adventures) and technology and go old school with paper maps and a compass this year. What compass do hikers tend to use? I've looked over the ones offered on and other outdoor sites and am not sure what I truly need. Should I get one that accounts for declination (which I still don't really understand but saw another post on this topic and will check it out)? Is a basic one enough? Any input would be fantastic. Thanks!

23 Replies

That's a great point Graf!


I think one thing that experienced hikers forget to explain to new folks learning to navigate is what "pay attention to the trail" actually means. When a newbie hears it, it sounds like the statement is, "look at the trail and when it turns, stay on it". Which is good advice as far as it goes. But the other part that experienced hikers do that we forget to impart to new folks, is to SEE special things in the trail or surroundings. 

"Look at this large rock, it kind of looks like a nose." "That branch on the edge of the trail looks like it could trip me up if it hooks my boot lace." "In all this tree cover, this sudden opening lets me see the sky." "Here would be a great place to take a break and sit on that fallen log if I need a rest."

All these little observations are landmarks, if you are hiking with a companion, calling them out and talking about them helps you both remember them. Depending on the hike, it might be an out and back on the same trail, or if you have to backtrack to find a missed turn, it is very comforting to have these little registrations or reminders that you are on the same trail. Landmarks don't have to be huge, that radio tower on the top of the mountain is visible from a lot of places, this tree that looks like a chair that we took turns sitting on when we hiked up the trail? Chances are, there ain't another one this similar in the same forest - we must be on the same trail. When we sat down, we were still talking about the butterflies we saw in the sunlight in that little clearing ... and here it is, too bad the butterflies are gone.

These observations may not help you navigate TO a place on a new trail, but they are invaluable if you need to back track, either on purpose, or because you can't find the destination you were heading for.

It’s important also to periodically look behind if staying on a trail so when your coming back you’ll recognize landmarks from the opposite view of when you came in


In other words, get your nose out of the Cell phone or GPS and actually look around you! After all, isn't that why you got out there in the first place?