Monday, February 20, 2012

Compass Basics

     This weekend I had a bit of an adventure. I signed up to do a winter survival class. It sounded great, and I was very excited. I had found the program in a community news letter and it was a class they were holding at one of the local nature centers. Always trying to learn new skills, I signed up right away, excited to hopefully learn something new.

     I went to the class this weekend and found myself in for a little bit of a surprise. Now I knew that this class was only supposed to be an hour and a half long, so I figured it would be covering the very very basics for winter survival, and that much I found to be pretty true. What I didn't expect was to find myself the only adult signed up for this class, along with a large group of seven to eight year olds.

     Yup. It was a kids class. This of course wasn't mentioned in the description of the class in the newsletter, and the nice lady at the reservation desk was probebly getting a good kick out of the fact that I was signing up for a class with a bunch of little kids. So thats where I found myself. Sitting in a chair in a room at the nature center, with a horde of kids on all sides. Never the less, to my suprise I actually learned a bit while I was there. That just goes to show that you can get new information from tons of different places out there.

     The instructor for the class did a good job covering all the basics for us, talking about how to dress for winter conditions, and what kinds of basic equipment that could be brought along for something like a day hike. The class also covered the basics of making a fire and making a shelter. We then of course got to try to make a quick debris hut out in the woods, and by we, I mean the kids, while I stood back to avoid the flailing limbs and flying tree branches. It did turn out remarkably well though, all things considering.

     The one thing that I found in that class to be the most useful, and which I actually knew nothing about was a quick introduction to orienteering. We got taught how to read a compass. Now if someone told you to try and find a direction and get somewhere using just a compass, could you do it? Perhaps you could, and perhaps you couldn't. In my case, I am girl, and therefore I got to go to Girl Scouts, not Boy Scouts. Where the Boy Scouts got to learn all about camping and compasses, I got cookies. So could I read a compass?

     I quickly learned that the answer is no. I couldn't read a compass at all. However I thought I knew the concept. There is an arrow, and it points in a direction. It seems simple. However, it is very likely before this class that I would have always been following where the little arrow pointed, which depending on what side of the arrow I would follow, which would be either North or South. So I would only, of course, get myself very lost.

     The very first thing we learned was what we needed the right kind of compass. A complete compass. Before this I have always thought of a compass as a round object only. It has a big N and an arrow that wobbles around, and you can find North with it, and figure out where you are going. Well, a complete comapss is a bit more complicated and looks like this:

     So how do you use it? It is actually not too hard, especially once you get the hang of it. First, on the plastic part the extends above the circular compass part, you have an arrow. This is known as the orienteering arrow. So you hold the compass flat, at belly button height with the arrow point out in front of you.

     Next you have the actual compass. The ouside ring, which has all the numbers and degrees on it, is a dial, so you can change which number is is centered at the top. A small mark under the dial, marks where forward is for you as well. Then there is a red arrow in the plastic, which is underneath the floating red and white arrow.

     So what you do is you hold compass flat, and you choose which way you want to go. Say East. What you do is you turn the dial so that the E on you dial aligns with the mark at the top of the circle, and as a result the orienteering arrow as well. Then you are going to turn your body till the red side of the floating arrow, lines up with the red arrow on the plastic underneath.

     Once you hae done this, you are facing East. If you want to in a heading of 140 degrees, you then turn your dial so the 140 degrees lines up with the top mark, and then again turn you body so that the two red arrows line up. Thats it.

     It is a very simple concept, and it is easy to preform once you know what your doing. Not only that, it is a great skill to have. It is certainly one I am glad that I learned, which is why I have shared it all with you, and why I am going to be putting a compass in my BOB as well.

     So I learned two very important lessons this weekend.  First was how to use a compass, and the second was that information can be found and learned in the most unlikely and unexpected of places.  Including  community kids programs.

     The community will be holding a program on how maple sugar is made next month.  I am sure there will be a large group of little kids at the program, which will be designed for little kids.  I'm going to sign up for it this week.


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