The Pack Report

The Art of Navigation

The Art of Navigation

Today, we present the key to navigation: the compass. The compass is an essential outdoor navigation tool. It has been around for nearly 2,000 years. With technology advancing navigation possibilities like digital mapping and navigation, the compass is still utilized in the field and at sea to this day. Anyone remotely interested in backcountry or desiring to wander off the beaten path needs to be able to understand and trust their compass: here is your guide to mastering the long-time art.

Brief history

The first compasses, made of lodestone, a natural ore derived from magnetic iron, were created by early Chinese scientists. These were basic systems designed for navigation at sea, wherein cloudy nights meant sailors could not rely on the sky for a sense of direction. Today, compasses are made using magnetic steel needles, and how it works is all about the poles of the Earth. A compass will always point in the direction of the north. Possible by the north end of the compass attracted to the south end, it will always point to the northern magnetic field. When traveling off the trail, a compass can be depended on to steer you back if you get turned around.

How to use

The easiest way to use a compass is to hold it flat out in front of you and observe direction. Every compass is a little different, but they all work the same way. Most compasses have an arrow on them that’s intended to be pointed away from you in the direction you are traveling. Using them to determine cardinal directions is simple, but the complicated part of navigation is what direction you need to go to head back to the trail. For this reason, recommended to study a map and keep one in your pack to go along with your compass; even a mental map of your surroundings can be lifesaving. To put this easily, say you are walking a trail that mostly goes from east to west. Depending on where you go off, you know that if you go north of that trail, regardless of the twists and turns, you must return south to get back to the main road and vice versa.

Note: a compass works because of magnets, so ensure that there is no other magnetics on your clothing or around you that could interfere with the reading.


The compass is essential because it can be easy to get lost while exploring when you’re not on a trail or in unfamiliar territory, or even if you are on a system and multiple trails intersect and wind around. The creation of maps and roads are dependent on cardinal directions, and compasses make that process easier. Keeping track of your route and planning what directions you will be heading is essential to a successful day in the woods, getting there and back. It’s incredibly helpful to practice your compass work and get comfortable relying on it for navigation. When you need it, you can be sure the compass will steer you right.

Historically for its reliability in navigation, the compass should be at the top of your gear list when you intend to explore. But obviously, it isn’t the only thing you should bring. Survival depends on multiple factors, and navigation, though necessary, is only one of them. We recommend outfitting with some of our handcrafted, reliable gear to strengthen your core equipment to be well suited for all your adventures. Check out our new arrivals, right on time for the holidays.

Happy exploring, friends!

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