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SeattlePioneer

Preferred Types of Compasses For Scouting

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I note in the "GPS - A Scouting Skill" thread that schleining says that his troop uses lensatic compasses, which surprises me. I encourage Scouts to outfit themselves with an inexpensive orienteering style compass if they ask, which can be had at Walmart for about $6.00.

 

A conventional compass with a swinging needle above a compass dial will work OK, even a toy compass. Of course it lacks the advantages of the orienteering style compass, but those aren't essential for hiking and camping.

 

A lensatic compass has a sighting system and magnifying glass that allows improved accuracy in taking bearings, and is/was commonly used by the military. But while it gives better accuracy in taking a bearing, it, too, lacks the advantages of an orienteering style compass. And those advantages are far more useful for Scouting purposes than more accurate bearings, in my experience.

 

That said, I carry a Suunto compass that has a lensatic style dial combined with a magnifying system that gives more accurate bearings than the common run of lensatic compasses provides. I find this useful on the relatively infrequent cases when improved accuracey is important, such as laying out compass courses or providing an authoritative bearing against which skill with using conventional compasses can be checked. I figure I can measure within .25 degrees with my Suunto compass.

 

So I'm interested in why Schleining apparently prefers to use lensatic compasses to orienteering compasses in scouting. And I invite other to discuss their preferences in compasses for Scouting.

 

 

 

Seattle Pioneer

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Ahh what type of comapass to use in Scouting. It depends on the activity. A lenstatic, a quality one at that such as a Sylvia Ranger or Sunnto MC-4, will give you the 2nd most accurate reading and is great for multi uses of slope angle, heights, fire starting and flashing signals. They also feature declination adjustment to have the compass speak true north, but then I prefer to have the map speak mag north. I would use a lenstatic compass for surveying trips such as trail building.

 

Your basic orientering compass: four fold, simple base plate, rotateing bezel with 2 degree markings is great for all around scouting. Its fairly accurate as long as you follow the bearing, and is good for taking bearings of mtns, trees, and the SM's tent and where you want to "transplant" said tent. Its also a great teaching compass. This is my most widely used compass.

 

Lastly theres the thumb compass. This is the orienteering toy. Not much more than a color coded bezelm thumbloop and finger plate, its great for getting bearings fast and running Orienteering courses. I only use these in Orienteering.

 

Whats the most accurate compass you ask? Its the optical compass i use in surveys, things good to 1/2 a degree, take a bit o time to learn how to use it and runs you about 300 clams. But lets not forget about global needle compass's, GPS compatable compass's....ect. Have you guys figured out I'ma Geographer yet?

 

Have fun not getting lost!

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Thanks for your reply and comments, ehcalum.

 

I also have and carry a Sylva Ranger compass, but I don't consider it to be a lensatic compass, although it has some of the features of what I understand to be a lensatic style compass (the improved sighting system that allows you to view the compass card and your object simultaneously using the mirror).

 

As I understand it, a lensatic compass has the compass card floating and turning rather than just a needle. The sighting system commonly uses a magnifying lens to allow more careful observation of the bearing while viewing your object at the same time.

 

By this definition, a Sylva Ranger style compass is an orienteering compass rather than a lensatic compass, since it has a needle rather than a floating card and no magnifying feature.

 

I'm not trying to be pedantic, merely to keep the styles of compasses and their features clear for purposes of discussion.

 

In my backpacking and climbing days, I carried only a Sylva Ranger, whhich best met my needs for those purposes.

 

For Scouting, I carry a variety of compasses for different purposes. I now use a basic orienteering compass most of the time, since it's inexpensive and I want to encourage Scouts to use a good, inexpensive compass which will meet their needs. The Sylva Ranger is overkill by that criteria, in my view.

 

I do give Scouts the opportunity to see and use the different types of compasses I carry, so they'll understand the different types and the advantages and disadvantages of each.

 

 

 

Seattle Pioneer

 

 

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Doh! I sit corrected my friend from the outdoorsy state of Washington. I got lenstatic confused with the sighting mirror variety.

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I tell the boys an orienteering compass is best for their needs. A lensatic compass cannot be used to orient a map, which is one of the advancement requirements.

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A simple orienteering compass is more than adequate for most needs. As noted above, leaders need a more accurate compass only to lay out training courses. The primary need on any trek is to be able to orient one's map. Lensatic compasses can be used for this purpose as well, by laying the lid with the wire sight out flat. Another tip - do not buy compasses with tinted baseplates, or opaque baseplates. Orienteering compasses with clear un colored bases are best for working with maps. Even when you can see through a tinted base, you may lose some information in the colors of the symbols on the map itself.

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I learned using a BSA compass while in scouts 30 yrs ago. When I joined a SAR team, all the officers had Rangers. I kept using my $5 clear base compass and was able to complete evenly on all the compass requirements in the classroom and field. I have run many compass courses set up for SAR training. The only time I had a problem was when an ex-military fella set up the course using his GI lenstatic compass.

 

I live in area where true north and magnetic north are only 2 degrees off. I use magnetic north and align my maps accordingly. Never had a problem. It I lived in an area where there was a greater difference, the adjustable feature of the Ranger might be worth the additonal $40-$60.

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I have used the Silva Ranger-type compass for almost 30 years, mostly for work but for recreation also. For Scouts, the Scout compass is an adequate starter and you can get decent ones for under $10. I bought my son a Brunton compass, very similar to the Scout compass but a little larger for $7. The reason I chose it was you could set declination.

The Silva Ranger-type priced where it is, might be gift appropriate at an Eagle Court of Honor (?) And by the way, these come in two varieties, 'bearing' and 'azimuth' Buy the azimuth variety.

 

On a related note: I attended a roundtable recently where there was a breakout session on compasses, maps and orienteering. I was a little disappointed in the lack of depth so I decided to write up some instructional material on my own and make it available to the District and Council. I'm at the point where a second set of eyes to review it might be helpful. If anyone would like to do this, they can contact me by the e-mail option and I can send them the material. Thanks.

 

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Being a Webelos Den Leader who has a fair amount of map/compass/GPS experince I've been doing a lot of reading Troop websites to look for compass recommendations. Most match what is being said here - low end baseplate compasses are what are recommended.

 

But this has led me to wonder what troops are teaching boys on how to handle magnetic declination. When I was a boy in Scouts the method taught was to draw magnetic north/south lines on the topo maps and then orient the meridian lines on the compass with the magnetic north/south lines. Is that still what is done?

 

It seems the only other alternatives are:

 

to mathematically adjust bearings (dangerous due to addition/subtraction errors),

 

use compasses with adjustable declination (my preference), or

 

to simply ignore declination (though in some far east & west part of the U.S. the declination could be as much as 15 or more degrees off of true north).

 

What does your troop recommend for dealing with magnetic declination?

 

By the way, my own favorite campasses for youth, though a bit more $, are:

 

Suunto M-3 for about $20 - A fantastic compass for a decent price. It has gear-driven declintion adjustment, anti-slip rubber feet, luminous markings, and true meridian lines on the baseplate. I much prefer the needle on the standard version as opposed to the global needle. I'm a little concerned wreckless users could strip out the adjustment screw, but it comes with its own little aluminum screwdriver so hopefully this isn't an issue.

 

Brunton 8010G for about $16 - I really like the "optical" green color - very easy to find if set in the grass. Declination is adjustable without a screwdriver, but because of the way this is done, the meridian lines are only on the bezel. They are quite useable, but instructors used to Silva-type compasses might not like it.

 

Our Scout store sells the Brunton 9020G, which is smaller than the 8010G and a bit cheaper. It also has adjustable declination, BUT I don't like how its baseplate is the same size & shape both front and back of the bezel. It seems way too easy for a user to use the compass "backwards".

 

There are other compasses I like better (Brunton Eclipse line and the Brunton 15TDCL), but they cost a bit too much for a young Scout.

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Very good remarks, kenk.

 

 

Around here, declination is 22 degrees east, so it's not something to be ignored.

 

I teach Scouts to subtract 22 degrees on their compass so that the compass card then reads true. With an orienteering style compass, this involves manually changing the azimuth ---to 338 degrees if you want to locate true north.

 

When finding the azimuth from one place to another on a map, I teach Scouts the method suggested in the Scout Handbook ---drawing in the magnetic north lines on the map and the using those lines to set the compass.

 

With some practice. these methods work OK, in my experience.

 

Using a compass with an adjustable declination feature can have it's own pitfalls. The declination may be set incorrectly or only a conventional compass might be available for use.

 

Using a compass usually requires the use of a brain and learned skills if its to work reliably. There's just no way around that, in my view. Every time I use a compass, I'm considering what things might be barriers to getting a good reading. And map and compass work in the field alwways means you need to be considering whether your theories about your location are correct, and how they can be tested to confirm whether they are accurate.

 

Practice, practice, practice. That's the key.

 

 

At the end of January, the troop did a six mile bicycle trip, and I included eight map and compass problems the Scouts were to solve along the way. A few were:

 

1. Use your city map to find a route to travle from the Church at 35 AV SW and SW Cloverdale Street to Jack Block Park, across the street from 2139 Harbor Av SW

 

[every trip in a car should involve the Scouts navigating their way to and from the destination, in my view]

 

[Furthermore, being able to use a map to find street addresses is a very important skill a majority of adults are poor at doing]..

 

 

2. Bicycle on Harbor Av SW to a point on the water where 1. The space need is at an azimuth of 19 degrees magnetic 2) a navigation landmark about 1/4 mile away is at a magnetic azimuth of 239 degrees magnetic.

 

Use your map and compass to identify

1 West Point Lighthouse

2 Bainbridge Island

3. Queen Anne Hill

4. Alki Point Lighthouse

 

 

4. Cobra Patrol: pick up a white flag tied around a utility pole across the street from 5427 SW Jaconsen Rd

 

Wolverine Patrol: pick up a white flag tied around a utility pole across the street from 4248 Chilberg Av S

 

 

 

Find a park bench on the waterfront where the magnetic azimuths are

 

1 318n degrees to the Alki Point Lighthouse

 

2 177 degrees to Williams Point

 

3 240 degrees to the visible south point of Blake Island.

 

 

8. Locate the address of 7139 Beach Drive SW. Continue bicycling on a magnetic azimuth of 165 degrees until you enter Lincoln Park.

 

Find a pinic shelter with the following magnetic azimuths:

 

1. the end of the Fauntleroy Ferry Dock 150 degrees

 

2 nearby picnic shelter -- 280 degrees

 

Stop--- you have arrived at our location for lunch!

 

 

 

 

 

One of the advantages of this kind of exercise is that there isn't too much need for adults to ride herd on the Scouts. They are constrained and directed by the orienteering problems rather than ever present adults. That gives an illusion of freedom and independence.

 

 

 

 

Seattle Pioneer

 

 

 

 

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I recommend the Silva starter, clear base plate compass sold in the Scout shop, for most Scouting uses. Sturdy, easy to pack, easy to teach, easy to use.

 

I also recommend teaching new Scouts to figure the declination once, mark their maps accordingly, then they don't have to recalculate every time they take a bearing.

 

Now, a little joke and a humorous story.

 

Joke: Why did the Army locate the Infantry School at Ft. Benning, Georgia? Because the declination angle is zero degrees in Columbus, Georgia...

 

Humorous story. Many years ago, KS is at the Air Force's school for new air base defense lieutenants in the low hills above San Antonio. We're on one of countless land navigation problems, in which the instructors load us into the back of a truck after dark, completely close us in, drive to the far end of the training area (about 45 min away), then start kicking us out two at a time, with instructions to get back to a particular 8-digit grid.

 

We're teamed up alphabetically, and my land nav partner is a gal from Chicago who's never been more than 100 feet from an electrical outlet. She's afraid of the dark, doesn't like critters, and doesn't have very good night vision either. We're supposed to be semi-tactical, so we duck under a poncho, turn on the red light, and get out the map. Several out of the poncho, into the poncho iterations to fix our position and orient the map. We plot the destination grid, and start figuring out our route. All options unpleasant -- either very hilly or very swampy. But, we notice that there's a paved road running mostly parallel to our overland route, then a 200-meter mostly flat romp to the coffee. We look at each other, and decide to go IFR (I Follow Roads). Out onto the blessed asphalt, lock elbows, and "Weeeeeee'rrrrrrreeee off to see the wizard..."! Well, of course we knew that we're not the only trainees out there. Little did we know that on that road, 44 students from the basic course are laying in ambush on that very road. Their instructor had designated victims scheduled, but when he saw us coming down the road like a couple of goombahs, he figured we'd be better (and more fun) targets. They were very well camouflaged, and practicing very good noise and light discipline, too. In other words, we had no idea they were there. Until, that is, the machine gun began firing -- that was the signal for everyone else to open up. Unarmed ourselves, all we could do is shoot an azimuth back at them, then scurry on with our ears ringing. Aside from the obvious lesson (stay off ambush routes whenever you can), we learned that a well-laid ambush is a truly awesome thing.

 

Sorry to digress...

 

KS

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Great story, Korea Scouter, very funny. On the subject of declination seems to me the majority of scout leaders neither understand it nor teach it. I used to give a little seminar on it to advanced scouts but their eyes glazed over when there was no declination box to check for First Class. Same with the basics of GPS, it's amazing technology, very interesting, but no box to check. Kids don't want to be bothered with too much gratuitous info in their mad rush to 1st class. And after 1st class, who cares? INHO declination has gone the way of learning the constellations, tracking animals and building a bow-drill fire. "Which requirement is this for?" seems all they care about.

 

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You describe a very sad state of affairs in Map & Compass Land, John D. No doubt true in too many cases, though.

 

 

In these parts, a declination of 22 degree East is hard to ignore if you are using a compass for something else than decoration around your neck.

 

Personally, I find most of the Tenderfoot-1st Class skills both useful and important. Especially important to me is the ability to read a map and orient a map using a compass ---really an essential skills if you plan to hike in the backcountry. And the key to knowing where you are on a map is to CONSTANTLY be checking your theories about where you are, which involves taking azimuths on topographical features to establish your current position.

 

I hikes and camping trips, I expect Scouts to be able to navigate their way from the troop headquarters to the trailhead, not just on the trails themselves. And to find the routes to get home again as well.

 

Good map and compass skills are one of the keys to having the freedom of the hills. If you don't have the skill, you are confined on where you can go.

 

Also --- to carry a map and compass on a backcountry outing is to take the lives of other people into your hands. Make the wrong decisions, and people can be injured or killed. That's about twenty times as true if you are climbing than if you are backpacking.

 

Have you noticed that I take map and compass skills seriously in this thread?

 

 

 

Seattle Pioneer

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Good post, Seattle. I like your style, bicycling with the lads, hiking etc. We try to do similar things here in the MEast within the linits of a brutal climate, already over 100F here every day. Another problem we have is detailed topos are considered military secrets , a rebel group could use them to hide in the desert and start a revolution, so they are banned. On the plus side there is no private ownership of land, (the king owns everthing), so you can strike out in any direction without worrying about some landowner coming after you with a shotgun (also banned!). So as long as you carry plenty water and keep your bootleg map tucked inside your shirt it ain't bad. Keep posting, maybe I'll live in a cool place like Seattle someday, Allah willing.

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