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Thursday, July 29, 2010

Hiking Compass: Lensatic or Baseplate?

Hiking without a compass is like driving without a spare tire. You may not need either one for a long time. But, in the case of the spare tire or the compass, not having one when one is needed can be very problematic. Not having a compass when the need for one arises could be fatal.
Two basic types of compasses are available for hikers and backpackers: baseplate compasses or lensatic compasses. Here is a comparison.
Baseplate or  Protractor Compassbaseplate compassBaseplate or Protractor Compass
These are more popular among hikers and backpackers and are readily available at any wilderness outfitters.
Baseplate compasses are equipped with a transparent base with protractor markings that you can place directly on a topo map to enhance navigation. A rotating bezel and fluid dampening of needle swings facilitate precise readings.
These compasses generally have a convenient declination adjustment feature.
Some baseplate compasses include a mirror that allows one to sight a distant object while at the same time viewing the compass face.

Baseplate compasses are lighter and more compact than lensatic compasses.
Supplied with a sighting lens, these rugged compasses edge out the baseplate compass for precision, even though the precision afforded by the baseplate compass is adequate for nearly all navigation situations.
Lensatic CompassLensatic Compass
With this compass you can accurately sight a distant object and glance down at the magnetic disk to get areading.  No wobble-damping fluid is used in the lensatic compass.
Lensatic compasses lack the declination compensation feature of the baseplate compass. You must do declination calculations (calculating the difference between true north and magnetic north) in your head.
Either of these two types of compasses is adequate for most hiking or backpacking situations.
Make informed choices. Hike well.
by Richard Davidian, Ph.D.

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