Why you need a compass when the SHTF
Picture for a moment, that you are on a trip to rural Alaska, and while out snowboarding with your friends you lose track of each other, during a blizzard. As you try to figure out your exact location, you realize that it looks the same all around you, with miles and miles of snow and mountain ranges now invisible from afar. The wrong turn at this moment could take you further away from your log cabin.
To add to your troubles, the snowmobile is running low on fuel, and your cellphone is out of network range. It will soon be dark, and in unfamiliar territory, you are scared of polar bears that you are sure are not too far. You are lost, and scared.
You reach out to your EDC bag and pull out your compass and the map of the area. The geography lessons that you learned a long time ago, will come in handy now as you try to determine exactly where you are, and what direction you need to head to. Without the map and the compass, you will be on your own, and the worst will possibly unravel.
Why you need a compass when the SHTF in particular? Some in the prepper community consider a compass an unnecessary addition to EDC or BOB as they know their area well enough and claim not to need it. Some people may consider the compass to be a relic from the past, and an archaic tool that was used alongside the hourglass, by camel riders to find their way through sandy deserts. But is it?
The magnetic compass is listed among the ancient Four Great Inventions of the Chinese and has now been in use since 206 BC. It is an instrument used for navigation and to determine general direction or orientation, and is made using a magnetic needle pointer attracted to the North Pole. The magnetic compass was an important advancement in navigation as it allowed seafarers to determine their direction especially during the day or during cloudy nights when the orientation of the stars could not be used to tell direction.
Why do you need a compass in your Bug Out Bag
The survival kit or your Bug Out Bag will contain useful items for an outdoor enthusiast, but more importantly, it would come in handy should the unexpected occur. It is difficult to plan for every eventuality, but in line with Murphy’s Law, if anything can go wrong, it will. If you have a properly kitted Bug Out Bag, then you will significantly increase your odds of survival.
A compass is a must-have instrument that would be extremely useful in an emergency during a mountaineering, camping, hiking or hunting trip. The importance of a compass as an essential item in your survival kit cannot be over-emphasized. It is a time-tested navigational tool that has helped lost travelers find their way back home safely. The best thing about a magnetic compass is that it uses nature to show direction, by using the magnetic pull of the earth to point North. It is not a piece of electronic equipment that uses a battery, and would still work perfectly even with harsh treatment including a heavy fall or a fall into the deep-end of a river.
The compass is also easy to carry as it is smaller and lighter than your cell phone and will fit snugly into your pocket. When faced with an emergency scenario that will require that you leave behind as much as possible to increase your chances of survival, then the compass will not give you any trouble with deciding whether to carry it with you.
Another reason why you need a compass when the SHTF is, a magnetic compass is also an accurate and dependable instrument, and with basic knowledge will point you in the right direction. When used alongside maps, then the compass will guide you out of the thickest woods, snow or desert, even without important landmarks to go with.
Why Global Positioning Systems don’t always cut the mustard
The Global Positioning Systems (GPS) technology has largely replaced the compass, as it is a system that uses satellites and receivers to provide details such as location and velocity. It has also embedded maps that show the best and shortest routes for where you are going. This is unlike the compass that can only point you to a direction and nothing much thereafter.
But while GPS technology has made travel and navigation much easier, the following reasons will demonstrate why the compass should not be discarded and every traveler should at least be familiar with how they work alongside physical maps;
1. The effectiveness of GPS will be affected by the vagaries of the weather
To get the best out of your GPS, the weather needs to be just right. Technological devices running your applications are prone to damage if exposed to water, cold or physical damage. If the device fails to work for any reason, then the GPS will not work, and you will be on your own. Such devices include mobile phones, laptops, and motor vehicle satellite navigation systems. Poor weather conditions many times will also affect cellular network access, without which you will be stuck.
2. Low Battery Warnings
GPS devices require battery use, and would rarely last beyond two days. Some devices also switch off certain services automatically when the battery is running low. During emergencies, it is wise to preserve the battery life of your devices, and use it only for critical communication or use it for other critical resources. This may require switching off of non-essential services including GPS, and a compass would be a good fall back, as you maneuver your way out of the emergency.
3. Bulky or immovable devices
Assume your car stalls in the middle of a desert, and you have to hitchhike to the nearest town. If you were using the vehicle’s GPS, it would be impossible to unplug it from the vehicle and use it for direction. Your laptop or iPad are also bulky items that you would hate to carry in an emergency just for direction, and may do you more harm than good in that scenario. At such times, a good old magnetic compass would come in handy.
4. GPS usage may require more than just basic skill
As technology continues to develop, GPS and other satellite navigation systems are also being constantly upgraded. While the use of these systems for navigation may appear to be straight forward, you would at least need some level of proficiency to operate the system. It will be disastrous for you if you got lost, and are unable to use the GPS, because of recent upgrades that you may not have prepared yourself for.
5. Power or system outage
GPS uses satellite communication and relies on numerous other service providers. The service may be affected by power outages or system down times that are outside your immediate control. In the event of such outages, it would render your GPS and the device you are using useless for navigation.
6. GPS may fail following a Nuclear Electromagnetic Pulse attack
In the event of nuclear explosions, electromagnetic pulse attacks may lead to damage to electronic equipment by generating high voltage and current surges. If the electronic equipment was in use for GPS, it would lead to serious service degradation and a possible shut-down of the system.
Using Map and Compass
The use of topographical maps and a magnetic compass is a critical skill that should be learned by everyone. If you are completely not familiar with a place including the general orientation and directions, then a map by itself would not be useful. The compass will be an essential instrument to help you identify the four cardinal directions on the map.
A topographical map is a type of map that in addition to showing land forms such as mountains, lakes, and forests, also shows greater physical details including changes in elevation and land height, usually using contour lines. Steeper slopes are represented by contour lines that are closer to each other, while gentle slopes would show contours farther apart from each other.
One of the main reason why you need a compass when the SHTF is the map and the compass when used together will give you a more accurate picture of your position, and the direction you need to follow to reach whichever destination you desire. The map will also show you key sites or landmarks such as mountains or tall buildings that you can easily identify and use to navigate your way. Furthermore, the maps will guide your route planning, as you may need to be aware of rough terrains, rivers or water bodies that you would not cross through.
Learn how to use a compass
If you wish to learn more about how to read maps and use a compass, for general navigation then numerous resources and tutorials are available online that can help you in your quest. Some of these resources include online readings and youtube videos, and we found quite a number that will teach you everything you need to know.
Remember – Electronics can fail
Always remember that technology can and will fail you at some point and that when Shit Hits the Fan it is your survival tactics and skills learned from using old school techniques that will save you.
While out camping, hiking or mountaineering, it is recommended that you learn how to use instruments, tools, and equipment that do not rely on factors outside your control, including batteries, communication networks, and technology. Building these skills will be worthwhile for you, and when Shit Hits the Fan, you will be grateful that you learned how to do things the hard way.
Let me know in the comments.