#24. Acquire a good-quality compass and learn the basics of navigation

IDEA #24. Acquire a good-quality compass designed to be used in navigation and learn the basics of navigation using the compass and a map; there are online resources as well excellent books available in libraries to teach these skills.

Some outdoor enthusiasts will tell you that map-and-compass land navigation has gone the way of the dodo in the age of GPS, but when the batteries run out, or when the satellites are down (as they were for a period after 9/11/2001) it takes a magnetic compass and a good map to tell you where you are.

The location of north has been part of the human knowledge base for millennia, but understanding the magnetic compass gave medieval Europeans the ability to navigate precisely. Greater sophistication in compass design (and an awareness that magnetic north is not always true north) has made possible not only voyages of discovery but also more mundane activities such as land surveying.

Learning even the most rudimentary skills involving a compass—following a set course, for example—involves logical and mathematical thinking as well as sustained attention; lots of instructional resources can be found on the internet. Land navigation using a compass and a map is even more complex, involving visualization of landform and structure as well as an understanding of angles. Even a short journey accomplished by this method can bring a considerable feeling of accomplishment, and it is not then difficult to imagine how it might even be possible to cross a mountain range or a desert using just simple instruments.

A serviceable compass need not be expensive—adequate models can be had for under fifteen dollars—but it may be possible to find a local hiking or orienteering (a sport involving running as well as compass navigation) group willing to provide both instruction and equipment to an interested novice. Maps suitable for serious navigation can be located through the government—US Geodetic Service topographical maps for land use and NOAA charts for marine use—or though stores specializing in maps or outdoor recreation; marinas and boatyards carry nautical charts.

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