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2/02/2016 3:16 pm  #1

​Compass vs. Dead Reckoning

While reading the recent Cell Phone thread, it seemed to me there was a division between two camps. The New Tech vs. The Old School. Personally, I dislike technology in the back country. I find it intrusive. Others like it. To each their own as long as you're not forcing your preference on me.

Then there was the side which prefers their map and compass. Half a lifetime ago I used a map and compass for orienteering in Scouts. On several occasions I've used a map and compass for hiking off trail. I used one in the French River Delta, which can get a little confusing. I've brought a compass to Algonquin lots of times. We are all conditioned to bring one. But, I have never actually used it while travelling in APP. Not once have I put a compass on a map in my canoe and used it to take a bearing. I just rely on dead reckoning. It seems reasonable to me to scan the horizon, look at islands, points and hills and use them to figure out where you are on the map. Sometimes you are off by a bit. Perhaps you are one bay out of place, or your are adjacent to a different island than you initially thought. But, not any more out of place than if you were occasionally referencing a compass. In fact, the only time I really remember looking at my compass is when exploring the bush behind camp. 

Does anyone actually use a compass while on a canoe trip in APP? If so why?


2/02/2016 3:52 pm  #2

Re: ​Compass vs. Dead Reckoning

Not in APP but definitely in Temagami and on the French River. 


2/02/2016 4:14 pm  #3

Re: ​Compass vs. Dead Reckoning

I don't remember ever using a compass to navigate on a canoe trip in Algonquin, even before I used any sort of electronics. The map shows the shape of the lake and the part of the lake you need to get to to find the portage. I look around and see the shape of the lake and go where I need to go. Unless I've closed my eyes and been spun around a few times, I have an approximate idea of which direction is which just because I know which way I'm going. Following a canoe route map to me is more or less the same as following a road map... the map shows you where you should be turning etc, and if you come to an intersection/portage where the sign says a different street/lake name than you're looking for, you check the map to see where you went wrong. And when that does happen, a compass wouldn't have helped much, since the issue is generally turning into the wrong bay, not going the wrong direction. (OK, looking at your post more carefully, I'm repeating some of what you said.)

Like you I mostly use a compass for bushwhacking. I rely on one heavily if I'm snowshoeing overland without a trail. I've never used one for exploring the bush behind a campsite but I guess that's because I haven't explored far enough in that context.


2/02/2016 4:32 pm  #4

Re: ​Compass vs. Dead Reckoning

Interesting thread. Timely.  I'm just about finished a video of my weekend solo crown land camping trip where my compass completely failed - first time ever. The polarity reversed somehow.
No, I typically don't need a compass in Algonquin, but I have used one a few times.  Without Jeff's Map, maybe I would need it more often.


2/02/2016 6:01 pm  #5

Re: ​Compass vs. Dead Reckoning

I still use a map and compass. In Algonquin with the park map I tend not to use it as it's pretty straight forward within the park, however when I am in an unfamiliar area I always have them to use. Relying on a phone, gps, etc is great until you run out of batteries ;) 


2/02/2016 6:05 pm  #6

Re: ​Compass vs. Dead Reckoning

On big trips I toss one in the map case so I can orientate the map occasionally, but I have never followed a bearing in Algonquin. Use them more as an aide rather than relying on them.

The last two times I have used one are hiking in the desert areas of the south western states, and in thick June fog in Pukaskwa.


2/02/2016 9:45 pm  #7

Re: ​Compass vs. Dead Reckoning

I don't very often use one but do pull it out if I find myself questioning my whereabouts on larger lakes or while travelling at night. Always carry one also in case of emergency  and I find my self needing to bushwack out to safety.


2/03/2016 11:47 am  #8

Re: ​Compass vs. Dead Reckoning

I don't use any electronics in the backcountry and although I always have a compass with me, I rarely use it canoeing. I find dead reckoning is good enough when you're on an open lake where you can see the shape of the lake and the contours of the horizon. I do, however, use one occasionally when backpacking to determine the direction of the trail more precisely and compare this heading to the map to confirm where exactly I am on the trail. There is a lot less visual reference available in among the trees.

As far as others using electronics in the backcountry, I have no problem with that other than those with radios. I have no interest in hearing the soothing melodies of AC/DC float across the lake to my site.

Last edited by Algonquintripper (2/03/2016 12:01 pm)


2/04/2016 6:34 am  #9

Re: ​Compass vs. Dead Reckoning

When backpacking in the mountains we always use an Altimeter as another tool to locate your position on a topo map.  Not really needed on the water.  Dead reckoning and a map works for me on the water.   But I do carry a gps while backpacking.


2/04/2016 5:14 pm  #10

Re: ​Compass vs. Dead Reckoning

I've always relied on dead reckoning and aside from getting into the wrong bay on Smoke Lake that added 45 mins to my paddle when I was new to tripping, I've never had trouble.

But, I also worry that if I needed to take a bearing, I'd do it wrong. I can read a map and use a compass but my skills are beginner at best. That's fine for Algonquin or Killarney but I'd like to improve my skills.

Has anyone taken an orienteering course or have thoughts on good resources? I'm more into hands on training than learn-on-your-own book reading. I'd love to better understand topo maps and be able to truly navigate with a compass (rather than just know which direction is which). 


2/04/2016 7:50 pm  #11

Re: ​Compass vs. Dead Reckoning

Grade 7 class trip, Pioneer Camp on Mary Lake, Muskoka. 😀


2/04/2016 11:23 pm  #12

Re: ​Compass vs. Dead Reckoning

@CanoeClaire. Frontenac Park puts on a great practical Map and Compass course. A full weekend with one day mostly on theory and basic orienteering, the next day is completely off trail in some beautiful country.

     Thread Starter

2/09/2016 8:18 am  #13

Re: ​Compass vs. Dead Reckoning

Dead reckoning is calculation of position using speed and elapsed time. Piloting is going by landmarks. There is a big difference. I use the second all the time in APP and the first on the ocean in my kayak in the fog.. ( with a compass)

My compass is on my PFD as standard equipment. But for canoe trips on small waters like Algonquin I only use it with dead reckoning to get down Opeongo in the fog.

You can' t keep track of landmarks by dead reckoning. By definiton it is a best guess of where you are when you cannot see landmarks.

Last edited by kayamedic (2/09/2016 8:20 am)


2/10/2016 7:28 am  #14

Re: ​Compass vs. Dead Reckoning

Huh, learned something new. Thanks.

     Thread Starter

3/02/2016 11:36 pm  #15

Re: ​Compass vs. Dead Reckoning

kayamedic wrote:

Dead reckoning is calculation of position using speed and elapsed time. Piloting is going by landmarks.

Thank you for providing some clarity. I use piloting almost exclusively tripping in APP as well as other canoe route trip areas. I've used dead reckoning on occasion when paddling on Lake Simcoe in big open water.


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