Staying found is both a skill and an art. Having solid map and compass skills are invaluable when exploring the outdoors, even if you are using modern digital navigation tools. Traditional map and compass know-how will make you a better navigator and help you stay found.
The first thing you need is a good basic compass. Here I lean toward simpler is better. I have an old starter compass I always carry with me backpacking as my go to compass. It’s fairly small, light and easy to use. Something simple like the Silva starter compass is inexpensive, works really well, and is small enough fit comfortably in a pocket or leave in a pack so you will be more likely to have it with you. The main features your compass really need are a rotating degree ring or bezel with clean easy to read graduations, an index line, and clear base plate with a direction of travel arrow. These features make it easier to read a map with the compass and plan a course. At least initially, I would stay away from folding or lensatic compasses, small button or pendant compasses, compasses with bells, whistles, mirrors, and hard to read dials. There are lots of great internet learning resources and videos such as REI’s How to use a Compass video, Backpacker’s and WikiHow’s How to Use a Compass instructions. If you buy new compass it likely will come with instructions as well, read them and practice a little.
Being able to using a map and compass together allows you match the physical terrain of where you with your location on the map and plot a course when you need to go or where have come from. Any map is better than no map. Even a simple hand sketch of a map is better than no map. If you can, use a map with good detail for the area you’ll be navigating. Unlike with the compass, the more detail in the map the better. I can navigate a whole lot better with a simple compass and detailed map, than I can with a complicated compass and simple map. And use the map for planning so you can better picture and orientate the map to you location. Look for a maps compass rose or symbol. Most of the time the top of the map will be North, unless there is a compass symbol. Once you can figure out the map north then look for some sort of scale. Now you can measure direction and distance. You’re ready to navigate now.
A few tips: When selecting a compass, try reading the dial in a dark room or area of the store, when you really need a compass it’s often in poor lighting. Some markings and graduations are difficult to read in low light. Keep the compass away from metal objects when using it. Things like belt buckles, watches, necklaces may affect the magnetic needle of the compass. Also be sure to hold the compass base plate flat and level so the compass needle can float and move freely.
Knowing how and being able to use a map and compass together will help ensure you stay found and when other things go wrong, these skills will help you find your way.