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A Hiking We Will Go ... Teaching Compass Skills

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I would like to have a mapping and compass activity at our Spring Campout. Can any of you recommend an inexpensive compass, suitable for Cub Scouts? I thought of making them, but the idea of needles in the grass makes me queasy ... though it could be a good opportunity to hone our first aid skills ...

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Possibly both. I have a vague idea at this point for an activity - certainly I am open to ideas. I'm thinking of having them pace out a triangle in a large open area. We will be doing a Search & Rescue Hike as well, and I'm considering having at least the Webelos use compasses on that, too. (The hike will be done grouped by Den with each level having a different course - I so wanted to say it is being done by groups of Den!)


Particularly, though, I'm asking about compasses. I'd like to put one in each Cub's hand, but not sure that is feasible.


The theme for our Campout is "Survivor Ahquabi - A Cub Scout Adventure", so this activity needs to fit into that theme.(This message has been edited by MomToEli)(This message has been edited by MomToEli)

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A couple of years ago I paid $3.97 for a compass at Walmart.


I have no idea of the brand but I know Walmart stills carries them (not sure about the price)

So far it's held up with limited use.

It's nothing fancy and works fine but it's not a toy either.


Something along these lines will work fine for WEBELOS.


Someone told me that about the only difference between a cheap compass(not the toy kind) and an expensive compass is how fast it will point to north.






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Id like to comment from the view point of an Orienteering MBC. One of the hardest things a teacher has to do is get students to unlearn something the student was taught. If you are going to teach the skill please familiarize yourself with the BSA approach. Use a compass with a base plate and a direction of travel arrow (not to be confused with the orienteering arrow). Using a plain round compass, even for experienced scouters, requires a high degree of practice to get the accuracy necessary to be effective.



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If it is for Webelos then get them a compass that would be useful for them in boyscout, something along the line of:


Suunto A10 Partner II for $8 each


They sell 'em at Academy for about $10.


or Silva Polaris for about $10



or Generic compass can cost around $5



But as indicated above get base plate compass that they can use in boyscout.


I bought my son webelos den the Suunto A10 as a graduation gift.



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M t E,


Welcome to the forum


For you webelos scouts, get a compass that is liquid filled, the needle moves slowly and smoothly. A compass with 2 degree increments is great, less than 2 degrees is somewhat difficult to get a good bearing.


For younger guys, something cheap will probably be OK, then have them fo north, east, southwest, etc.



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not knowing "where" (physically) you are I can't say for sure, but first check with any National Parks in your area...there is one just down the way from us that has a great compass program that "if the stars are aligned just right" (several times annually)...you can get them to teach compass work for you for a tiny fee...more important they will lend a set of compasses (20) for a day if they are not doing a class and they have several courses from simple to really tough to practice on...


If that is not an option, check around for an orienteering club...they are usually a great bunch of folks and many of their members might be willing to help...and last (or first...you choose), BSA has a compass game in the scout stuff inventory that can be used...


plastic "map plate" type compasses are what you want...silva makes several in the $10 range that are perfectly fine for beginners...I still have my original scout compass...circa 1963 that works fine...little slower to settle down than fluid damped compasses but it still points north!


As mentioned before however,...incorrect information "learned" is terribly hard to "unlearn"...and (no offense meant)...make sure whoever is teaching knows what they are doing...Teaching bad information just because someone wants to teach orienteering or compass "now", is worse than teaching no information...you would be surprised at how many scouts and scouters have poor compass skills because they were "taught" by people who didn't know what they were teaching.


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Remind me not to allow CNYScouter to navigate for me.

Silva Compasses are great for Scouts.

The Silva 1-2-3 Starter Compass.A Beginners compass has a liquid-filled housing and protractor with metric scale.

Scout Stuff sells it for $9.99. You can pick it up elsewhere for about $9.00.

While all compasses will point North, design and ease of use comes into play.

You could of course make your own (Have the the Scouts make them) With a magnetized needle, a cork and a bowl of water.

Or if you have time you will need You'll need these materials:

A flat area where the sun shines directly (no shade)

A straight stick or dowel, about 18 inches long

Four heavy rocks (about the size of golf balls)

A few smaller stones for marking .



In order to know which way the wind is blowing, you'll need a compass. You might like to make your own.


You'll need these materials:

A flat area where the sun shines directly (no shade)

A straight stick or dowel, about 18 inches long

Four heavy rocks (about the size of golf balls)

A few smaller stones for marking


Locate a flat sunny space near your weather station. Begin by digging a hole about six inches deep. Bury the base of the stick. The stick should now be standing up to a height of twelve inches.


The first thing you'll need to do is locate "North." Before the cubs get up in the morning, place a small marking stone at the end of the shadow cast by the stick. After school, later in the afternoon, the shadow should be about the same length as it was in the morning, but in a different direction. Place a marking stone at the end of the afternoon shadow. Position your right foot on the morning stone and your left foot on the afternoon stone. Your body now faces south. Another way to think of this is that the two shadows meet at the stick to form an "arrow" pointing south.


Once you have located "south," place one of the four heavy stones on the ground, about twelve inches in front of the stick. Position a second stone in the "north" position by tracing a straight line opposite away from south. Position "east" and "west" carefully opposite from each other. Be sure that they are equally distant from "north" and "south." You can use your compass to find wind direction and other weather data.

This information will be needed to guide in the "Rescue Helicopter"

Using the Silva compass setting up a simple orienteering course to find buried clues shouldn't be that hard.

If there is a Sea Scout Ship in your area or a good Venturering Crew you might want to ask them to come and set up a simple course and explain how a compass works.

Have fun and remember KISMITF







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I just did an introduction to Compasses with my Webelos I group last month. The Scout Shop sells an inexpensive basic compass game that I used. Basically you put out 5 or 6 stakes at specific locations in a circle. The circle can be in a gym, or a field. Each stake has a letter on it.

Then each scout or pair of scouts gets a list of compass bearings. They start at letter A go, 140 degrees and write down the next letter and so on. At the end, they check the letters that they got with an answer key. The boys get a lot of practice with bearings in a short period of time and they are in a fairly small area.


I used this as one station. At another station the boys worked on measuring their pace. At a third station we talked about how compasses work and I did the demonstration with the cork and needle. At the end of the meeting we had a search and rescue. They had to rescue a lost child by following a set of bearings and paces. Remarkably the lost children resembled various food items.... which we ate after all were recovered.


By having 3 stations, I only need 3 compasses (for the first activity) and managed to get 12 boys through all three stations plus the Search and Rescue in a little over an hour.


I will say that this was their first introduction to using compasses. I plan on using the Compass game as a gathering activity for later den meetings.


Have fun and check out the Belt Loop and Pin for this as well.

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Case in point. The beginner compass game WDL MOM discribes has several "control points" which are very close together. Unless the scout is taught the correct way to set a heading and sight a bearing they will have little "luck" in getting this game right. The smaller the diameter of the circle the closer the control points. If you use this game, and it is a very good teaching tool(I have 3 but none still has the set up page, and I hound the boys about keeping track of their gear:) ) anyway if your going to use this game it is important to teach the scouts to sight over the control when setting a heading. Standing next to the control when sighting, on smaller diameter courses, will creat big problems.


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Another nice beginner's compass is the Brunton 9020G.


This compass provides for tool-free adjustable declination, and the bright optic green color "may" make it more finable if dropped.


Based upon my Scoutmaster training experience, I found it a bit frustrating that our council recommends ignoring magnetic declination when working with Scouts. Here in my area the declination is only about 3 degrees so its not such a big deal, but in other areas of the country magnetic north can be as much as 18 degrees from true north.


When I was a Cub Scout leader I started the boys out with compasses fairly young. We'd do a pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey game where we tought the boys how to point the compass to a target on a wall and then "box" the needle. We'd first show them how the needle always points in the same direction no matter where they'd turn. Then we'd teach them how to "box" the needle to remember which direction they want to go. At first adults would help them do this. Then we'd give them a post-it note, put a sheet over them, gently spin them around a few times, and then, with the sheet still on, we'd have them use the compass to orient themselves toward the target without rotating the bezel, and then start walking toward the target with the post-it note leading the way until they reach the wall and stick the note in place. To be safe we'd have an adult walk in front of them to make sure they didn't bang too hard into the wall.


When they were Webelos I created a triangular compass course where there were a series of starting points (flags in the ground) for each boy - about 50 feet apart along a straight line. Each of them got a card with a series of three bearings and associated paces to walk. What they didn't know was that they were walking a right triangle with sides of length 3-4-5. You can use any size triangle as long as the sides are multiples of 3, 4, and 5, respectively. The angles of the corners are as follows:


Between sides 4 & 5: 37 degrees

Between sides 5 & 3: 53 degrees

Between sides 3 & 4: 90 degrees


It takes a bit of angle geometry and thinking to figure out the bearings, but here is an example:


So, suppose they start out at the 4 & 5 corner:


1. Take a bearing of 260 degrees and walk 25 paces.


2. Take a bearing of 117 degrees and walk 15 paces. 117 = 260 + (180-53) - 10


3. Take a bearing of 207 degrees and walk 20 paces. 207 = 117 + (180-90)


When done, they should be standing at their original starting points. Some Scouts figured that out, others didn't. When we did this, we had an adult helping the first time, but then the second time we doubled the number of paces (50, 30, 40), and they did it on their own. You could also have every other Scout do different sized triangles, so long as they are pacing a multiple of 5, 3, and 4.

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This shouldn't be that difficult to figure out.


1) use the 2nd & 1st class requirements out of the Scout HB as the basis for your instruction. It is very basic, interesting and the boys are fascinated by the new info. Webelos I've used it with are always interested, especially when the maps come out of the area you are in. Topo's can be gotten off the internet for anywhere in the US. Download and print off.


2) Buy a nice compass the first time. Buying a junk compass for $5 and then having to buy another later on at $10 means the scout has invested $15 in a $10 compass. Get the Sylva method compass. They are inexpensive and last forever. I don't use a liquid filled compass, they will eventually leak, and aren't good in cold weather. If it takes longer for the needle to stop spinning, it's no big deal, a little patience isn't a bad thing to learn along the way. It also gives the mind something to ponder and plan when waiting for the needle to stop as well. (Very helpful when you are "unsure" of where you are in the woods)


I purchased a basic BSA Silva Method compass as a kid in scouts. After 45 years, that very same compass is in the right cargo pants pocket of my scout uniform. As an adult, I purchased a second one (identical) and that's in the glove compartment of my car. The original compass has been in the hands of hundreds of boys learning, it's been to BWCA, Philmont and just about every major national park in the country. It has been with me every time I've hunted the Mississippi backwater swamps in the area. It's just as good as the day I bought it.


If the boys are really going to learn to use the compass, get a good one right from the start. Learn to use it right. And each boy that ever goes into the woods will know he's taking his best friend with him when he goes.



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Go to "Oriental Trading Co." Wade thru the glitzy dross in their catalog, they have a very passable compass, colorful plastic, rotating bezel, degrees marked by 3s, on a string. DO NOT order the black and white compass without the string, it is NOT magnetic, only for looks. About a buck each, less if you order by the dozen.


Used them for CSDC for Cub M&C Belt loop.


Here's what we did: Maps on the wall, graded down by scale: National Geographic map of the universe, then the Solar System, then the world, then North America, then the State, then the County, then the Park and lake. Talked about scale, symbols, latitude, longitude,etc.

Oriented the maps to each other. Then some fun "On three, everyone point NORTH! 1,2,3!!" Talk about confusion. Pass out compasses. Talk about magnetic north versus geographic north, east, west, south. Play with compasses, attracted to steel columns, table legs, etc. Stay away from them! Walk a set compass course, practice pacing off a set distance. Practice walking a straight line by sighting a compass angle, sight on and then walk toward a landmark.. All done in less than an hour. String on compass lets it be looped onto the totem cord or belt.



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"in the glove compartment of my car. "


I'm thinking of making next week "Be Kind To Compass Week"

Anyone found storing a compass especially one that isn't liquid filled in a glove compartment or near the electrical supply (Battery?) Will be reported to the Lost and Found Police!

They might have to use a hand held compass with no way of working out what the deviation is!!



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