3 Ways a Compass Can Fail (and 3 Apps That Won’t)

Aug 28, 2019

An old compass

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Have you ever considered using compass apps?

When you brave the great outdoors, you rely on your gear to get you back home. A quality compass is an absolute must if you enjoy the thrill of true survivalism – navigating the wilderness for days at a time. That said, even the best tools are prone to error.

So how can you fully prepare yourself? How can you make sure your compass won’t fail? Educate yourself on some of the factors that cause interference, and you have nothing to worry about. Go one step further by downloading a compass app and carrying a backup charger, and you’ll lose all fear of getting lost.

Here’s what you need to know.

1. Magnets and Magnetic Fields

Many popular outdoor clothing brands use magnets as fasteners and fashion accessories. Unfortunately, this can create life-threatening interference with your compass in survival situations.

Compasses work by using a magnetized needle on a liquid-filled rest. The compass needle points two opposite directions — north and south. However, your compass doesn’t align with true north. Instead, it attunes itself with the magnetic north.

It means that tiny fluctuations in the earth’s magnetic fields can lead you off course. It also means that any interfering magnetic fields can impact the needle. These inconsistencies can result in you walking in circles, growing dehydrated, exhausted and increasingly frustrated.

When reading a physical compass, make allowances for declination and deviation. Declination refers to the minor shifts in the earth’s magnetic field over time, meaning that magnetic north moves constantly. Deviation refers to objects with their magnetic fields interfering with the earth. Your compass won’t work if you’re trapped in a cave made out of iron ore, for example.

Before heading out, inspect your clothing to make sure it’s free of magnets. Choose alternate attire if possible, and look for magnet-free gear when shopping. Keep your compass in a cloth pocket away from metal grommets and buttons, or stow it in a backpack away from metal objects.

Try Commander Compass. If you love off-roading, it ranks as a must-have. It contains a ton of features, including detailed GPS navigational tools, keeping you on the trail.

The app features a speedometer and altimeter for those keeping track of their distance and cardio fitness, as well as a sun, moon and star finder for the nights you spend sleeping rough.

2. Electrical Interference

Like magnetic fields, electrical interference from batteries and wires can impact compass function. When an electrical field interferes with your compass needle, the device splits the difference, meaning you could head several degrees off course.

When packing your gear, store your compass separately from any video or digital camera batteries. If you bring a laptop, keep it and your phone in separate sections of your backpack. The amount of interference electricity produces depends upon the proximity to the wire or battery source.

However, certain materials conduct better than others. When storing your compass at home, keep it away from other devices, as the fields emitted from these can cause long-term damage to your device.

Try Altimeter Pro GPS. If you want to scale every mountain and know exactly how high you’ve climbed, you can’t go wrong with Altimeter Pro GPS. This outstanding Android app has you covered, whether you’re scaling the Alps or doe hunting in the Smoky Mountains.

The app automatically calculates sunrise and sunset times based on your location, so you can plan when to stake your tent for the night. And when you return to civilization, the app features street maps too.  

Compass in a hand.

3. Heat and Rugged Extremes

Finally, leaving your compass near a heat source, like a campfire, can impact the liquid inside and damage your device. You should also pass on leaving it out in direct sunlight.

Strong blows or crushing weights can destroy your compass as well. Invest in a compass carrying case to protect your investment. If you’re accident-prone, investing in a padded carrier for your compass can protect it if you take a tumble.

Try Compass 360. If you’re new to the world of compass apps, Compass 360 offers easy navigation. The app instantly calibrates itself, making your work easier. Just tap the app, and you’re good to go.

A Compass and App Together

For maximum protection in rough terrain, use a combination of compass apps with a high-quality physical compass. If one device fails, you have another. Be sure to carry sufficient backup power with you as well — especially if you’re posting frequent updates on social media.

When you combine education about proper compass care and function with emerging technology, you’ll enjoy better peace of mind in the wilderness. And that makes any outdoor adventure more enjoyable. 

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Jack Shaw is a senior writer at Modded. Jack is an avid enthusiast for keeping up with personal health and enjoying nature. He has over five years of experience writing in the men's lifestyle niche, and has written extensively on topics of fitness, exploring the outdoors and men's interests. His writings have been featured in SportsEd TV, Love Inc., and Offroad Xtreme among many more publications.