Written by 3:41 pm Wilderness Navigation Masters

17) Magnetic compass abilities & limitations

Hello and welcome to this short lesson of the online course Wilderness Navigation Masters, where you will learn what a compass is able to do and what’s not.

But first, …

Always carry a magnetic compass and a topographic map:

I want you to know is that you have to always carry a compass with you when you are outdoor, especially when you compare a compass weight (75 g / 2.65 oz), to what is able to help you with.

Yes I know, most of the time in marked trails, you can navigate with the help of a topographic map only, but what happens if you go off-trail? … even if you don’t want to.

And please, order a topographic map of the region that you expect to visit, or download it online and print it and learn how to use it.

follow your compass and not your feelings:

The second thing I want you to know is that a compass is a reliable tool that you have to follow. I mean, when your compass aims for the north in a direction and you think it’s in another direction, follow your compass and not your feeling, because most of the time the compass is right.

Now that you know you should always carry a compass with you and that most of the time a compass knows the north direction more than you, let’s see what a compass is able to do.

Compass abilities:

A compass is able to :

  • Help you when you are in a linear landmark intersection and you want to know each direction to follow.
  • The second thing is to
  • In the next lessons, you will see that in the wilderness, sometimes a compass wants you to walk through …  let’s say a mountain, in this case, you have to pass around it by the right or the left, for that when you try to pass it by the left and you have to do the opposite which is, taking right to return to your first route, a compass can help you in that.
  • Another thing a compass is able to do is helping you making a U-turn when you go off-trail and you want to go back to the trail. By the way, if you know the story of the hiker Geraldine Largay that she went off-trail for bathroom, but unfortunately she gets lost and found dead after two years. One of the solutions that would have saved her life, was having just a compass in her hand. If she was going off-trail taking north and she gets lost, all she has to do in order to found her trail is to take south with the help of the compass.
  • Another thing that a compass can help you with is to navigate to a destination with the help of a bearing, which is a direction, we will talk about that in detail in the next lessons.
  • The last thing on my list that a compass can help you with, is to aim and walk to a landmark, that you don’t see with your eyes, because it’s night, due to weather or because you are in a dense forest.

That’s not all the scenarios when a compass can help you, they are other ones that I didn’t mention.

Now that we did see the compass abilities, let’s see the limitations.

Compass limitations:

  • The first limit is, your compass will not aim for the north when it is near metal objects like keys, electricity power lines, and poles or near a vehicle.
  • That’s what can affect your compass when you are using it outdoor. When you are in the comfort of your home and your compass are just laying down, do not place near a metal object, because doing that for a prolonged time can damage it forever.


My tips for you to know if your compass works well is to just compare it to another compass (handheld or smartphone app), but be sure to not put them next to each other in the case of two handheld compasses.

That’s all for this lesson.

Thank you and see you in the next lesson.

Updated on June 7, 2021 by Ben

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