As old technology goes the compass is right up there, responsible for easy global navigation that allowed trade between countries to flourish and saving countless lives as a part of survival kits. But with our every growing use of digital technology and in particular GPS range and direction finding systems has the humble compass had its day.

The current GPS units work by receiving signals from multiple satellites and comparing timings encoded in each signal to work out your exact position any where on the earth with a very small degree of error.

Looking at the GPS vs the Compass just what are the possible reasons for lose of use.

Possible GPS Failures

1. Running out of power : Dedicated handheld GPS systems will give a better operating time per set of batteries than a smartphone running a GPS app and one major decision when buying an outdoor GPS is the ability to power it from standard batteries that can be changed easily.

2. Damage : Dropping or water damage will kill you GPS unit for good with a very slim chance that it can be repaired in the field. Always check specifications on any GPS to see if it can handle the usual bumps that come from use outdoors.

3. Satellite signal failure : Although this is very unlikely due to the amount of GPS satellites in orbit, once your GPS has lost the signals from space its just a box with pretty lights on it. Its interesting to note that in recent years many countries around the world have become concerned about their reliance on a worldwide GPS system that is controlled by one nation (USA) and have either launched their own systems or have them in the planning stage.

Possible Compass Failures

1. Damage : Crush damage could stop a compass from giving the correct information but the design is so basic with the bare minimum of moving parts that a repair in the field in usually possible. Because there is no electrical component in a compass even a full swim in water is not going to hurt it in the short term but depending on the metals used may cause rusting in the long term.

2. Magnetic pole disruption : Switching of the earths magnetic poles will give false readings on the compass but even though we are unsure what would happen to the earth if the poles switched an inaccurate compass will be the very least of your concerns as none of the theories for magnetic pole disruption are good.

Modern information rich technology is good but we shouldn’t forget the basic fail safe tools and ideas that don’t require electricity to give results and save lives when all else fails.

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