By: Blonde Two

An interesting and important warning from Mountaineering Scotland came through this week after walkers in Scotland, who had all the right equipment and were confident with their navigation, managed to walk east instead of west in poor visibility. Their error was thought to be due to a magnet on clothing. We Blondes have warned before about keeping compasses away from mobile phones and other electronics but the clothing one is new to us. 180-degree compass errors aren’t unusual, there are a few points during the bearing setting process that can result, particularly if you are tired, in a complete reversal of direction (if you ever hear a Blonde muttering ‘north to north’ you will know that she is concentrating!) There are a few ways that you can avoid the unfortunate consequences of this navigation error (which will happen to any navigator eventually).

  1. Be aware of your surroundings, always trust your compass, but don’t be afraid to question it if it is sending you uphill when your map suggests downhill or towards the sun when you know you should be walking north (this becomes far more tricky, but not impossible in poor visibility or at night). If you are still learning about translating what you see on the map to what to expect on the land, OS Maps offers a great 3D aerial view and gives you the opportunity to look before you walk.
  2. When the stakes are high, ask your walking partner to take a bearing as well. It is unlikely that both of you will make the same mistake or that both compasses will show the same error (although there are some natural phenomena that can cause compass deviation). Compare your bearing results and take steps to amend if they differ.
  3. Carry a spare compass at the bottom of your rucksack but away from any electronic devices. Compasses can break and lose themselves at the most inconvenient of moments and a replacement could be vital. Another great thing about carrying a spare compass, particularly if you are on your own, is the ability to check a reading that you are questioning on your main compass.
  4. If you really are in a spot, a mobile phone app could get you out of trouble. We Blondes would put this fifth on the navigation safety list after map, compass, compass skills and spare compass but we have used both OS Maps and OS Locate to confirm a location. A friend and I once even managed to take a reasonable bearing from a paper a map using OS Locate.

Navigation skills take practice but are not difficult to learn with the right training. Even the basic of map and compass navigation can get you out of a sticky outdoor situation. Find out more about our navigation courses here.