Guest post by Andrew of Outdoor Look.
For hundreds, if not thousands of years man has explored his surroundings with a compass and maps. Now we see GPS units and apps for smart phones available a plenty, so has the humble compass had its day? Both have their fans with some seeing the GPS as just the latest ‘boys toy’ with lots of buttons and flashing lights and those who see it as a valuable aid to navigating your route that anyone who is serious about walking and hiking must have with them at all times. I lean towards the compass and map, simply because that is how I was taught, but I can see how technology changes and obviously a GPS unit doesn’t take up as much space, but is one better than the other? Let’s see.
The compass is lightweight, fits in a pocket and is ideal if you need to travel light. It is relatively inexpensive and needs no additional purchases to make it work, you simply take it out of its packaging and away you go. If pushed the compass is so simple that you could construct one from items in your home.
However, you do need to acquire a few skills in order to read a compass properly. Without an accompanying map a compass can only really tell you where North is, although with a basic knowledge of the compass points you can travel in another direction.
But what about the GPS unit? It does allow you to carry a plethora of maps in the palm of your hand and is easier to use when you are on the move. It will also provide additional information such as distance covered, and what is still to be covered before the end of the day (although this might not be such a good thing in certain circumstances).
On the down side, it does run on batteries, and if you are carrying spares in case it runs out then you are adding additional weight to your pack. With it being an electronic device it is more prone to damage from dropping it and you will have to keep it dry. The cost of a GPS unit can go into the hundreds of pounds so is on the expensive side, although the new generation of smartphones are seeing some very clever apps being released which can reduce this. A unit can require a strong signal to work accurately, and can be affected by weather conditions, whether you are under a heavy forest canopy or are inside buildings. Although as technology improves over time these should be overcome.
So a GPS unit gives you far more detailed information and is easier and faster to use than a compass and map. It will be able to tell you where you have been, where you are, and where you are going, but using a compass and map will give you a broader geographical context, which helps you to remember the route. The GPS is great but power issues especially mean that it should always be backed up by a map and compass. So personally I see that the GPS would certainly be useful as well, but I would still prefer to have a map and compass safely packed with my outdoor gear. What do you think?
This is a guest post by Andrew, a keen walker and outdoor enthusiast who writes for Outdoor Look, a UK based retailer of outdoor gear, clothing and footwear.