Rock Creek Park Hiking Trail Map

COMPASSES

You are not going to impress anyone by saying that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. You’re expected to know this. And knowing your north-northwest from your west-southwest sounds knowledgeable but may have other walking-boot enthusiasts thinking you have a nautical or meteorological bent – although forecasting a potential storm coming up from the south-southwest will be met with some admiration if this happens to be true.

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Hikers tend to navigate in degrees (of accuracy), rather than compass points. There is one vital piece of information you need to remember at all times. If you have a compass and don’t know how to use it, NEVER try to bluff your way out of a situation when you are temporarily misplaced and in thick cloud or fog. To navigate using this equipment and a map, when blind to your surroundings, is a skilled art that takes practice.

Should you anticipate such a situation, try to ensure that you are with other hikers. Then you can explain that your compass ‘appears to be faulty with extra air bubbles in the housing’. This enables you to pass the responsibility onto someone else while suggesting that you’re also thinking of other hikers’ safety. No hiker would use faulty equipment to lure others into danger, even if you don’t much care for their company.

Hikers who know how to use a compass will take a bearing. This is the difference between north and the direction of your target destination. For example, if you want to aim for a pub that is directly east, the direction you need to travel is 90° from the direction of north. This means that if you hold your compass in front of you, keep the needle pointing north, and walk at an angle of 90° to the needle, you should reach your destination pub.

This is why hikers go on long pub crawls. The constant sampling of real ale (a hiker wouldn’t dream of drinking anything out of a can, or anything that smacks of ‘lager’), can interfere with a hiker’s ability to hold a compass steady and to walk in a straight line.

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