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This article about EMF and hiking compasses
has been updated from my 2003 original.
Can an inexpensive hiking compass detect EMF as well as a $50+ EMF meter?
Until around 1999, I dismissed the idea of using a compass during ghost investigations. Instead, I relied on other ghost hunting equipment.
However, a series of tests with a sturdy $10 Coleman compass surprised me, and a $5 compasses worked nearly as well as my regular EMF meters.
Now, in some settings, I actually prefer to use a hiking compass when I first explore a haunted site.
And, unlike hi-tech equipment with batteries that can fail in haunted settings, the compass always works.
Here’s my background: For years, I was a Girl Scout leader. So, I know that hiking compasses work like gravity. They’re almost 100% reliable with no surprises, as long as you aren’t near something magnetic, a large electrical engine, or major power lines.
Late in 1999 when I was documenting a ghost hunt, I brought my compass to Gilson Road Cemetery in Nashua, NH. I had only intended to use it to get my bearings when making notes about which geographical corners had appeared the most spectrally active.
When our ghost hunting team arrived, I placed the compass on top of Hannah Robbins’ headstone at the northern end of the cemetery. Her stone appeared to be aligned in a NNE direction, looking towards the carved side of her headstone.
This was what I expected to see, so I didn’t think about it again.
However, while I was comparing anomaly photos with actual grave locations and other landmarks, another ghost hunter and team member, Alan (the one we call “ghostbait”), checked other parts of the cemetery with the compass.
North seemed to move.
In the southern half of the cemetery, the compass showed north in one direction. As Alan walked towards the northern half of the cemetery, the needle swung about 30 degrees and stayed there.
We tested this repeatedly, and the results were consistent.
At the time, this was a very rural location, before a housing development moved in across the street. In 1999, there were no nearby generators or significant power lines.
EMF should only increase in proximity to electrical activity. It has been reported during spectral activity. We don’t know if ghosts cause EMF surges, but at haunted sites, we often find higher EMF readings.
Since Gilson Road Cemetery is profoundly haunted, it should not surprise me that my sturdy, non-nonsense compass reacted to energy there. But it did.
On return visits and ghost hunts, day or night, we’ve seen anomalous compass readings at Gilson Road Cemetery and most other “haunted” locations.
Since then, we’ve used a compass on several Hollow Hill investigations. Now, we highly recommend a compass in your basic ghost hunting kit, for fun if nothing else.
Guidelines for compass use in “haunted” locations, and during ghost hunts:
- Use only compasses with free-swinging needles. If the needle tends to get stuck pointing in one direction, it’s not helpful.
- Before you start walking, line up North so the red part (or point) of the needle is over the arrow painted on the compass.
- Learn to use the compass in a not haunted site, first. Your backyard is a good place, if there are no electrical wires nearby (underground and overhead, too).
- The first time you try this, walk in as straight a line as possible, directly towards North or towards South.
- Expect the needle to bob and bounce as you walk. This is normal. However, when you pause, it should always return to North.
- Keep the compass as flat as possible. If you hold it an an angle, your reading may not be accurate or the needle may become stuck.
- If North seems to move, pause. Check how you’re holding the compass. North NEVER changes direction!
- Debunk odd readings if you can. Look for interference from magnetic deposits (a metal detector can help) and from electrical sources, including power lines. They will “attract” the compass’ needle. (In the U.S., geographical survey maps may help identify areas with likely metal deposits.)
- This is worth repeating: North NEVER changes its location. Even a slight 10-degree shift is an anomaly, if you’ve eliminated all other influences. Profoundly haunted sites can show unexplained needle-swings of up to 90 degrees.
- If you think you have an anomaly, retrace your steps. See if the compass anomaly repeats. Usually, it will… but only for awhile.
- Check again on another day. Unfortunately for documentation purposes, a genuine haunting is unlikely to repeat the compass anomalies in the same places, day after day. (One that does repeat is more likely electrical or magnetic interference with the compass’ action.)