Tune up your compass in the Smokies

Do you follow the North Star? For those sunny days when you’re hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park where the night sky is unfortunately unavailable to assist you with navigation, make sure you’re on the right heading with proper adjustment to your compass.

Did you know your compass needle doesn’t point directly to the north? The earths geomagnetic field exerts varying degrees of influence on your compass needle as it swings around in search of the elusive North Pole. Magnetic declination, a critical map tool for hikers in the know, is the angle of deviation between true north, and what your compass needle is pointing towards.

Magnetic declination within the park is measured in the west, or negative direction, and ranges from -5.6 to -6.3 degrees. Most compasses do not have the ability to delienate tenths of a degree, so you’ll have to “Kentucky Windage” your compass sightings to just to the right or left of the 6 degree mark. You will have to hike a very long distance, on a straight line, to realize any error manifested by a few tenths of a degree.

The map here gives the magnetic declination for many areas in the park as of March 1st, 2017.


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