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I use one all the time in the mountains and forest when on foot. Carried a spare across a couple of continents when motorcycling and didnt it once. So now for this part of the trip, it rests at home in the backpack, Im sure that at some point Ill need it and curse myself...
A vehicle mounted compass needs to be swung. You take a bearing from a known objects position and find the error. You then correct for this error. The correct way is to fix magnets (aircraft version) or iron masses (old maritime solution) so the needle points the right way. Look at a ships binnacle in your local maritime museum, those 8 inch iron shot either side of the compass aren't there to hang your jacket on, they're the rough adjustment to allow for a hundred tons of steam engine a few feet away. The fine adjustment is under the dial and would usually be done at each port, hence lots of harbours have a location known as Compass point.
So called vehicle compasses are set up for an expected magnetic field (most 4x4's have 200-odd KG of diesel engine in the front) so they are better than the walkers compass in the tank bag. However, they don't entirely account for your vehicles magnetic field and i'd guess are worse on a bike where the small engine is below/behind (don't know, I never compared them). Hence, in the emergency where you know the paved road is somewhere North and the next town is west down that road, you will travel in roughly a straight line (actually a really huge arc as oposed to the 50 mile circle a compass pointing at the engine can produce). However, if the target is a 55 gallon drum of petrol in the middle of Australia, I'd want to get 10m away from the bike and do things properly every half hour or so.
This is where the sun compass comes in, if you know local solar time and have the proper scale on the dial for your latitude, you can keep moving just by keeping the shadow on the right time.
Walkers get stuck in Scotland because they need accuracy to account for their lack of range. A bike with 2 gallons of petrol will hit a road and get out so long as the rider uses his map. A walker with nothing but a Mars bar and a can of fizzy pop in their pack can't do a 50 mile detour without freezing to death, and will become more disoriented by the time it takes them to go round an obstruction. Of course a biker with a siezed engine is just a badly dressed hiker........
Nice description there Andy. With Alloy bars, plastic fuel tanks etc the local magnetic attraction might be minimal on some bikes. In basic fiddling and experimentation I have found that the compass needle does not have to be very far from local metal to correctly indicate magnetic north.
Perhaps the bike influence on a compass needle is greater when the engine is running (with increased local magnetic field generation)?
As mentioned in another post, at least a compass can give you a rough indication of orientation of a map, no matter what the weather conditions are, day or night - however, I have still managed to get it wrong when tired/cold/basically knackered.
I've tried out navigating by both the Pole star and the Southern Cross - they are both fine if you want to go North or South, but not so useful if you are aiming to go, say, SSE or NNW etc etc.
A compass fixed to the bars won't always be accurate , you have to remove the compass from the influence of ferromagnetic objects to take readings so that it won't be affected by any residual magnetic fields .
Absolutely right.....they need as you say, to be swung, or you can search around the h/bars for a neutral spot.....
I found this on my @ on top of the front brake reservoir....
Incidentally, I find that the compass is at its most useful in towns.......elsewhere, an approximate heading is sufficient, even if my compass is not spot on....
trust not in what others tell you - advertising lies
Originally Posted by Dodger
Mmmn ,I thought the new Garmins 60CSx and 76 CSx had compasses built in that weren't dependant on you actually moving .
So the internal compases don't work very well[ if at all ] , is that what you're saying ?
The 76CSx has all the toys and uses 5 sat instead of three to pin your location. And yes, I am saying the internal magnetic compass is less accurate than my handheld. Before anyone asks, yes, I do step away from metal to ensure the gps magnetic compass is free to find it's mark.
Don't get me wrong, I use and depend a great deal on this gps. Especially since I have aftermarket maps and contour maps loaded in it. However, I am aware of it's limitations and don't rely on it blindly. The compass is still a useful tool and it works when the gps doesn't (in steep-sided canyons).
A decent compass is still cheap insurance.
I don't know about the rest of our fellow travellers, but I have a great respect for "low teck" that has been proven and used for ages. I work in a "high tech" environment and understand the huge support base that necessary to sustain it.
If you want to see spectacular "low tech", take a look at the use of "ropes" and "knots". The knots we use in climbing have been around for a very long time and are still worth knowing.
Most of my travel gear (clothing) is synthetic. However there is still room for a fine wool sweater in my kit. My boots are heavy leather backpackers that are anything but high tech. They work fine and can be re-soled anywhere in the world.
I don't need things to be the latest and greatest, although that is nice. I do need them to work, all the time and everytime.
Boy that "soapbox" was fun.
I don't own a GPS. But then again, my bike travels don't put me out in terrain where I think a GPS might prove useful, but even with that being said, I doubt I will ever use one. But maybe...
I have used a lensatic compass in conjunction with UTM maps extensively when I was in the military (and some for civilian applications) where I was on the ground on foot and/or in a military vehicle. There were no GPS devices back then. My opinion is that learning to land navigate in the classical sense like this keeps one from getting lost in general, and also helps one learn how to pinpoint one's location via intersection/resection techniques, etc.
My son, who is in the US Army now, says all of his training has been in the classical land navigation tehcniques, as were mine. He say his vehicles are equipped with GPS, but that most opine that a GPS "makes one stupid" unless one has had the classical training.
What about navigating by the sun using a wrist watch.
You need to be set to the local time, so that midday on your watch is when the sun is highest in the sky. At midday only, exactly in the northern hemisphere the sun will be due south, and in the southern hemisphere it will be due north.
In the northern hemisphere, at any time, hold the watch level and aim the hour hand in the direction of the sun, bisect the angle between the hour hand and twelve to find a rough south. In the southern hemisphere this technique will give you a rough north. Not so good at the equator, at night or on an overcast day but still worth knowing.
Although I guess you guys use the digital clock on your GPS to tell the time
The dial on your watch is maybe an inch across? You can align it within 3 degrees of the sun? It's acurate to maybe 30 seconds, set to within an hour of local sun time (as against GMT +/- ??) and your estimate of "halfway" is good to another 3 degrees?
Add up all the possibilities and you might be out by 20 degrees. If you are in trouble and there is a road across your path roughly North and 10 miles away that's fine, you'll hit the road where you expect. If you are aiming for a well in a desert valley 50 miles out you'll be in trouble unless you have a lot of water and petrol to spare looking for a three foot hole in the ground (better to aim off and then know which direction to search in).
Good emergency technique though and better that moss on stones and so forth.
To make the sundial methods work you need one of these:
Fun to play with, but doesn't compare to a working GPS and really too big with all the watches, calculators, compass etc. to be a useful backup. It makes you appreciate just how good the early desert navigators were.
Good point Andy, like you say its good in an emergency. But for some reason Id have a compass and map anyday over a GPS. Ive been to comet twice now on a GPS hunt and walked out both times thinking "sod it, Im gonna use a map".
That being said I have been lost a few times as well
Sounds like you need something designed for bike/walking use rather than sales reps and people who couldn't find their hotel if they jumped in a black cab and gave the driver the Savoys letter head.
I'd suggest a decent camping shop to take a look, then buy in Argos if they can't match the price. Something like a Garmin C60 type that doesn't do much more than point at your next way point is easy to get along with. Remember these things aren't infallible, if you know a better route use it, the GPS will always be technically correct but it doesn't have local knowledge which frustrates a lot of people new to GPS. I hate to suggest it but Touratech do some good versions they just know how to charge for it.
I was very surprised to read this thread, I had just assumed that “everyone” had some form of magnetic needle pocket compass for navigation, especially useful in towns , and on foot, and even on the bike. On the spur of the moment I bought a “toy” digital compass for cars last autumn before a trip to India, and mounted it permanently in the right handguard. Not only did it actually survive the different weather and roads, and show the right direction, it was very useful in towns and cities, just glance at it rather than fiddling about with my pocket compass. Surprisingly it wasn’t stolen until Gokarna in Karnataka, even though it was visible when the bike wasn’t covered.
I have never owned GPS, so I have little personal experience, but have seen others use it to find addresses straight off that I would have used a long time to circle in. I have also seen it lead to near disaster in mountain country where map reading and interpretation are crucial. Here the GPS is considered a supplement, but this is a more serious environment, maybe you could compare with desert off-piste. Most times the GPS has worked perfectly, but I feel it must be very vulnerable to moisture and impact in a fall, besides being a ‘steal-me’ when you are stopped. My main GPS geek tells me all this is luddite superstition, but he also sees the value of map and compass, not least for planning, and as a backup.
I have tried a few handlebar mounted compasses with no success, even maritime versions, so I suppose the GPS is coming to a motorbike near me, but I reckon to keep a pocket compass handy. It worries me that they seem to be made of "kleptonium", very vulnerable to thieves, I would be interested to hear peoples experiences with the 'secure' mounts.
Get the right unit and you can drop it in rivers, ride through snow storms, just about anything except use it to hammer in tent pegs. I've had one unit fail in nine years. Seems modern electronics don't like 1950's big single vibrations after they've had four years of year round and off road use. I wasn't that upset it'd had a tough life and done it's job.
There is no such thing as a secure mount. Mine comes out of the mount and goes in my grab bag or on a lanyard round my neck at any point where I'd take the keys out of the ignition. That to me is another reason to have a mobile phone sized unit rather than something that looks like a home entertainment system.
I'm using a Garmin GPS60CS in a Touratech/RAM mount BTW.
i would still be lost in some Bulgarian / Romanian / Turkish etc forest without a compass. It is my no1 essential tool for travelling. sat nav is for people with no real sense of adventure, getting lost often leads you to the most interesting places. Andy B
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