Get a compass (and look at it)!

For some people the compass comes into the same category as algebra, foreign languages and computer programming – hard stuff! This is unfair as it is a wonderfully simple (and useful) device – all it does is point North. However, it does it in the dark, in the rain, when you are stressed, when you have no batteries (or signal) and, in particular, when you are lost!

The key skill in using a compass is looking at it – once you have done that you know where North is (the red end of the needle points there). You then also know where South, West and East are, and can walk in a rough straight line in any of these directions. As a novice don’t worry about the spinny bit, the wee numbers and the big red chevron arrow – they are for more advanced use. Just concentrate on finding North!

So if a blog description says – leave the railway station and head North towards the sea, you look at the compass and immediately know if you need to cross the line (underpass or bridge please).

The second key benefit is that you can now line up your map (Grand Day Out, Ordnance Survey, etc) so that left on the map is left on the ground, right on the map is right on the ground. Suddenly the world makes sense again.

Generally it is not essential for lowland navigation – but it helps and makes you a much smarter navigator which, sooner or later, will pay dividends in saved time, saved face and maybe saving you from even greater grief. Also, if you opt to take up mountain walking then you will already be familiar with compass basics, and adding on the extra skills required to take and follow a bearing will come naturally.

Compasses are cheap and readily available. As always I would recommend buying in a proper local specialised outdoor shop (not Amazon or a megastore).  Staff will help you get the right kit, you will likely learn something and, importantly, you will support a local business.