Maps, Compasses, and GPS

maps compasses and gps

I used to hang the map inserts from our National Geographic subscription for decoration on my walls.  I’ve received 2 globes in my life as gifts: once from my parents for my kindergarten graduation and a much needed update many years later from another family member.  I’d spin it and spend hours imagining what life was like in Lichtenstein or Bhutan. Give me a MapArt book of GTA streets and I am a great navigator.  Plop a topo map and a compass in front of me and I might need a little help.

Topo map courtesy of

We spent a day learning how to take our bearings, sightline a path through the forest, and read a topographical map. We talked a little about declination.  The next day we played with GPS units, figuring out how to set and find waypoints and connect them to form a route.  The highlight was spending a brilliant autumnal afternoon geocaching.

My Brunton compass:


Was this enough to set us up for success for what’s to come this week?  Probably not.  I suspect the only way to get really good at map and compass work is to actually do it.  And so we shall with a four day hike in Algonquin Park and a three day ride through parts of Ontario and Quebec.

An older version of a handheld GPS unit from Garmin:


Watch for updates in the coming weeks.

Up for discussion: Compass or GPS when you’re out in the wild?

Published by Kate Monahan

Travel happy. Outdoors professional. Writer. Photographer. Educator.

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