This ancient compass still does the trick
October 18, 2006
Carrying a compass in the backcountry is a little bit like having jumper cables in your car – they’re both pretty useless if you don’t know how to use them.
My dad gave me his compass years ago, to help me find my way. It’s a Wittnauer with a nickel case and a lid that pops open like an old pocket watch (I found a similar one for $50 on the web).It’s raised some eyebrows over the years, looking ancient as it does, so I checked out what else is on the market. The options run the gamut, from simple to sophisticated, though none of the new ones offer the metal casing that sets mine apart from the crowd.Carl’s Pharmacy has one for $7.99, set in a plastic casing with a clear bottom so you can view a map directly beneath it.Carl’s also offers a five-in-one device for $21.99 that includes a small binocular, magnifier, compass, LED flashlight and an emergency mirror – all handy items if you’re lost, or even if you’re not.
Not surprisingly, the compass options at the Ute Mountaineer are a step up in quality, and price. There’s a Suunto “pro compass” with a mirror that lets you look at what’s in front of you on the landscape, and down at the compass dial simultaneously, via the mirror. It’s $54.95. A Suunto baseplate compass runs $29.95.There’s a $50 key ring that sports a compass, water-resistant to 10 meters, and a chronograph. It also displays the time, date and temperature.A Suunto watch, with built-in digital compass, altimeter, barometer and other features, can run from $200 to more than $500.
As nearly as I can tell, every one of the shiny, new compasses does pretty much what mine does – points north. Handy information, assuming that you’re hopelessly lost but know which direction it is you need to go to get unlost.For me, carrying a compass is like having insurance. I hope I never have to use it.Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org