Is Your Compass in Reverse?


Have you been geographically confused out in the bush, are you sure you are right, is the compass wrong?

It’s time to check the accuracy of your compass!

It would seem that the old adage “trust your compass not the operator” may no longer necessarily hold true.

There are many reports starting to emerge of compasses that have suddenly developed “forced reverse polarity” and leading users into problems. Reverse polarity can not only be a nuisance but life-threatening if you are using a compass in bad weather or during an emergency.

What is reverse polarity?

This happens when magnetic forces have affected the compass needle and forced it to reverse its polarity. Essentially the North end of the compass is pointing South or thereabouts.

As modern-day campers, bushwalkers, paddlers, 4WD drivers and outdoor enthusiasts, we are now surrounded by a plethora of “things” that have a magnetic field.

Think about it: mobile phones, radios, GPS, Personal Locator Beacon, Spot, camera, car keys, tablets, cases for phones and tablets, hydration tube “clips”, and even underwire bras.

These are things we carry or wear while in the field. What about the shops with security wands, or the many things in the car that may affect us while we are travelling.

It would seem the biggest suspect in all of this is the smartphone and cases with magnetic closures. How often do you jam your compass into the same pocket as your phone, or store them together in a pocket of your rucksack?

Using a Suunto Compass for directions

Check your compass before your trip every time.

Reputable manufacturers such as Silva recognise this problem and are suggesting that you check your compass every time you head out as a survival safety step.

They can repolarise your compass for you if it does occur, while some suggest that you simply do it yourself by swiping a magnet over the compass needle.

How to avoid reversed polarity:

  • store your compass away from the electronics you are carrying
  • hold your compass away from your body when using it
  • read your map and be aware of what should be happening as you move forward on a bearing
  • carry a spare, safely stored compass in case of a malfunction
  • check your compass before you leave home and again before you start your trip.

Are you in the market for a compass? If so then read our other articles “What to look for in a Compass” and “How to use a Compass” for some useful tips and advice.

About the writer...

Joined back in January, 2014

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