True North Blog

Equipment – Some Things are Just Worth the Price

The Great Outdoors is a wonderful place to recreate physically and spiritually.  Even better, in many cases, you can do so without spending a dime.  Few other things in life are more wonderfully egalitarian.  However, “without spending a dime” is just a manner of speaking, of course.  Because for the most part, no matter, how economical we may want to be when we spend time engaged in some chosen activity under the sun or stars, the basic reality is that we must spend some amount of money.  It could be just to buy a simple pair of hiking boots, a hat, a fishing pole, or the fuel that we pump into our car’s tank.  How one chooses, then, to buy any apparently necessary items most likely depends on a number of criteria.  A good set of starting points most likely are the chosen activity, one’s skill level, degree of commitment, and, of course, the size of one’s pocketbook.  There really is no right or wrong pricing choice when it comes to picking gear.

Or is there?

Take for example these two lensatic compasses.  On a casual glance, they essentially look alike.  After all, they have the same type of housing.  The same type of baseplate.  The same type of thumb holds.  The same basic color.  And best of all, they have the IMG_2242same type of needle.  A few minor differences, certainly, but by and large they are the same.  However, if you look more closely, you’ll realize that there is one huge difference.  Both compass needles are pointing in different directions.

In short, one compass is pointing to magnetic North, and one isn’t.

Can you guess which one is correct?

Consider too that in an actual wilderness setting your decision may mean the difference between spending the night lost in frigid temperatures, or spending it in a cabin chatting with your friends around a cozy fire as you sip a well earned pint.

Another big difference?  One of these compasses retails for around $90 and the other for about $25.

Last Autumn, one of my students in an Advanced Wilderness Survival course brought one of these compasses so that he could learn the Land Navigation element of the course using his own gear.  However, about 45 minutes into the evolution he remained frustrated because he just couldn’t seem to grasp the essence of setting a bearing.  For a few minutes as I worked with him — and used his compass — I must admit that I suddenly got frustrated too.  Until it dawned on me!

I then pulled out my Cammenga tritium compass (standard issue in the U.S. Army) and laid it on the ground next to his.  What I saw then is essentially what you see above in the photograph.

The student then explained that he hadn’t felt that it had been necessary when preparing his gear for the course to spend more than $25 on his compass (which was simply a Cammenga knock-off, likely made overseas).

I then loaned him my compass (the one on the left in the photograph) for the remainder of the course.  Whad-da-ya know, from there he quickly learned to navigate!

So the moral of the story is that certain pieces of equipment — Most especially, those on which your safety and the safety of your group depends — are definitely worth the extra money.


Would you like to learn how to use a map and compass?  Then check out one of our Basic Wilderness Navigation couses in our current Schedule.

Erik Kulick leaning aginst wall with True North badge on blue shirt

About the Author

Erik is the founder of True North Wilderness Survival School. He is a police officer, EMS provider, a Wilderness EMT, and a Fellow of the Academy of Wilderness Medicine. He has been featured in national and international media, including CNN, the Associated Press, and Backpacker. To learn more about Erik, visit him on LinkedIn and be sure to follow him on Facebook and YouTube.

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