Tuesday, November 28, 2017

A Rosy Inclination

Maps show you where you are, where you want to be, and what lies between. All of that is vital information to have, but it's utterly useless if you don't know which direction gets you there. The tool that fills that hole is the compass.

At its heart, a compass is a magnetized metal indicator that is suspended in such a way that it moves freely and aligns itself with the earth's magnetic poles. Any compass you depend on should be liquid-filled, because this dampens the movement of the needle and makes it far more stable.

There are a few styles of compass out there, ranging from tiny button-sized units to pieces with more bits and geegaws hanging off them than you can imagine. Out of all the compasses out there, I can only recommend two styles: the "map" or "flat" style and the "lensatic" style. The button types will show you north with varying degrees of accuracy, but they won't do anything more than that, and that honestly makes them almost useless.

Map Compasses
These are made of a clear material with a flat base. They lie flat on a map and are great for orienting the map to north and determining the direction of travel. They're also incredibly budget friendly. Unfortunately, they lack any aid to sighting landmarks, making them the more difficult variety for pointing you in that direction.

Lensatic Compasses
These lack the flat base of a map compass, but have a wonderful built-in sighting system. They also almost always incorporate a protective case.

Lensatic compasses require a fair bit more practice and work to orient a map, but once you're moving, they making sighting landmarks an absolute breeze. They have a two-piece sight setup similar to gun sights: simply align the sights with a landmark on your desired bearing and you have an easy travel reference. This feature has made a lensatic my compass of choice for the past 15 years or more.

Combination Compasses
When I was searching out my links for this post, I wondered why someone hadn't build a compass with the features of both a map and a lensatic compass?

Apparently UST has. It opens flat to orient your map, and has measurements on the edges to scale distances. Once you're oriented and have a bearing, you fold it 90 degrees and open the sighting arm, and you can sight a landmark just like a lensatic. It's unique and useful enough that I'll be retiring my own compass and switching over.

Next week, we'll put all the tools together.


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