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A compass is a recommended piece of gear for all hikers who venture out beyond the confines of a city park. Trails come and go and get rerouted. What shows on your map may not be up to date. It is easy to get lost in unfamiliar country. A compass combined with a map can help you determine where you are and the location of your destination even in country you aren't familiar with. Even without a map a compass can help by keeping you headed in the right direction.
With a good contour map and well marked trails you may not need to use your compass very often, but it is highly recommended that you carry one whenever you hike anyway. They don't need to be big or heavy or expensive. The times that you do need to verify what direction you are headed or in which direction a distant landmark lies to establish where you are you'll be glad that you both have a compass with you and know how to use it.
Hiking & Backpacking Compasses
Hiking Compass Features to Look For
Additional Features for More Frequent or Advanced Use
An important tip to remember when using a compass is that its needle points to magnetic north which is not necessarily the same as true north. Most contour maps used for hiking will show the deviation or magnetic declination for the area they represent.
Magnetic Compass Alternatives
Electronic compasses - can be easier to read and often include supplemental functions such as time and temperature. Most of them can be adjusted for declination. Disadvantage is they are battery dependent.
GPS - units sometimes incorporate an electronic compass. They can do a lot more than a compass. They can tell you exactly where you are with latitude and longitude coordinates. Some will allow you to down load maps and show your position on the maps. Disadvantages are dependency on batteries, more complicated to use, heavier, can be difficult to see well in bright sunlight.
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