I Don’t Use a Compass to Navigate in the Field

Reason being is that I’ve forgotten how to and I typically don’t need to.  The last time I knew how to use a map and compass was probably for a Boy Scout merit badge (20+ years ago).  To be honest I’ve never felt like I was missing out.  That didn’t stop me from carrying a map and compass, but beyond orienting the map (the only skill I remembered) I had absolutely no skills in this department.  I don’t know a single person that can navigate with a map and compass, much less orient a map using one.

On one trip in particular this past summer to Badger Creek Wilderness I navigated entirely using my phone with PDF Maps as my GPS unit.  I didn’t take a paper map.  This is a dumb mistake and I knew better.  Luckily there were no consequences.

On other trips, I’ve had my phone battery completely drain overnight thanks to forgetting to put it into airplane mode.  Luckily I had the paper maps as backup.  Another time on the Timberline Trail I brought a backup battery stick, but forgot the cord.  However, a map and compass don’t run out of batteries.

I can orient the map pretty easily using landscape features/the sun if need be.  I rarely need to, as most trails I’m on are fairly obvious and hard to fuck up.   Thus, most of the time having a paper map and Caltopo Map loaded onto my phone is sufficient.

I’ve now got a hankering to do more off-trail exploration and to do that safely I need to know how to use a map and compass properly. I’m set up to go to a class at REI to do just that here pretty soon.

In the meantime the videos by Andrew Skurka and the Columbia River Orienteering Club are excellent for learning compass skills.  What worked for me was to take it slow, as it’s weirdly confusing and not intuitive for some reason.

I think the in person class at REI will be a big help to get the basics down.  So if it would stop fucking raining I’ll be able to go out and practice in the field on some low risk trips in an area I know pretty well.  I’ll of course write about my progress 🙂


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