In recent news, the earths magnetic north pole has moved. A lot. What does this mean for the hiker trying to find their way?
If you are planning to navigate with a magnetic compass, the first thing you need to know is the average amount of variation in your area. In parts of the country and world other than South Carolina, the variation may be more or less and can be to the East instead of West. In South Carolina the magnetic declination or variation is normally between 6 and 9 degrees (depending on where you are in the state) to the West. This means when you are holding a compass in your hand, the needle will actually be pointing about 6 to 9 degrees West of the earths true North pole, it’s pointing towards the earths magnetic North pole. To find the true North direction you have to add this westerly variation to your magnetic compass reading. Simple right? Maybe.
Some compasses include an adjustment setting for declination or
variation. This is great if all your navigation is typically in one area and you have a large amount of declination, greater than 10 degrees. you can make the adjustment for your area and the compass will indicate true North. Most maps will have some sort of compass rose which typically will point to true North and may also indicate magnetic North. You should always use the most recent maps available for your area.
While a lot depends on how far you are traveling, most hikers follow established trails. In these cases, the compass is an aid to make sure you are heading in the correct direction on the trail, or to simple help you get back on trail if you step off for a quick bathroom break of to explore a bit (of course you would need to take a bearing when you head off). If you are truly navigating open areas with long distances where a couple of extra degrees of error may matter, I would recommend augmenting the compass with GPS or other aids. With regards to the movement of the earths magnetic North, I wouldn’t worry about it too much, yet.