The Changing Scene of Backpacking

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One of the most popular things for young people to do today is to spend some time backpacking around the world. There are many benefits to having a backpacking adventure. Young people learn more about the wider world when they travel beyond their borders. They come back from their experiences more educated, more tolerant and respectful of other cultures, more flexible and better able to solve problems. Backpacking has been around since the 1950s when backpackers first started travelling the famous Marco Polo Silk Route. That evolved into the Hippie Trail from Europe to Asia in the 1960s, and backpackers have spread around the world since then. Here is a look at the ways backpacking has changed over the years.
The People
Perhaps the biggest way that backpacking has changed over the years is the types of people that go backpacking. When backpacking was in its infancy, it was only hippies and adventurers who would be bold enough to travel the world with nothing more than a backpack on their shoulders. Nowadays, all kinds of people go backpacking. It is not just the young people who are highly adventurous. Now that there are many more resources available for backpackers, people do not need to be as fearless and willing to blaze their own trails as they had to be by necessity in the past. People today can use Internet resources to plan every single detail of their trips. In the past, travelers often had to fly by the seat of their pants when they arrived at a new destination.
The Equipment
Another huge change in backpacking over the decades has been the updated technology. The main way that technology has changed backpacking is by making everything smaller and lighter. Backpackers today can fit a lot more gear in their packs than they could even 20 years ago. Clothing, shoes, tents and most other gear has both become lighter and smaller. It has also become easier to pack by stowing up into smaller spaces. Instead of packing cartons of cigarettes, backpackers can use e-cigarettes and pack a vape starter kit to save space.
Of course, the abundance of electronic gear is one of the biggest innovations in backpacking. With one smartphone, travelers can document their trip with photos and videos, keep in contact with the folks back home through email and video chat, translate a foreign language, call for a taxi, research their next destination and navigate their way through unfamiliar territory with GPS guidance. Smartphones have made travelling much easier than ever before, but they also take out some of the sense of adventure in backpacking.
The Destinations
When the backpackers started spreading out around the world in the 1970s, towns where they spent a lot of time started rapidly evolving. Quiet fishing villages and sleepy mountain towns started sprouting many hostels, restaurants and nightclubs aimed at the backpacking crowd. Backpackers started to fall in love with many of these destinations, putting down roots and opening up businesses of their own.
The result of this is that there are many stops along the popular backpacking routes where travelers can eat Western food and speak in English without ever having to immerse themselves in the local culture. This makes it much more convenient to be a backpacker, which is one of the reasons so many more people are backpacking these days. It also means that something is lost because many backpackers do not gain the cultural enrichment that was once inevitable for backpackers.
As you can see, the world of backpacking has changed a lot over the decades. The people, places and gear may have changed, but the experience is still essentially the same. It is still all about people expanding their worlds to learn about other cultures. Although they may not get the same wild experience that was possible in the past, it is still a good way for people to expand their horizons and learn about the world.

GPS Waypoints

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Managing your waypoints isn’t hard to do.  But one simple step gets you on your way!

I really like to keep my navigation simple.

Simplicity now makes life a lot easier when a potentially bad situation occurs or when someone in your party is injured. 

Before leaving home I “dump the junk” or get rid of those old, meaningless waypoints.  At the trail head I’ll reset the “trip computer” and the track log (the bread crumb trail.)

On the trail I always verify that a waypoint has been saved.  Verification is a simple step that has saved my bacon more than once.

Waypoint List

When it’s time to return to camp or home, there is nothing more unnerving to find that the waypoint you need isn’t on your waypoint list.  In the illustration to the right, the waypoint to “home” isn’t there.

It is easy to make this mistake.  Perhaps after executing the waypoint function you hit the OK button or you selected another option without saving “home” to file/memory.

My recommendation is to verify by selecting/depressing the “find” button (Garmin) and then selecting “waypoints” to view the waypoint list (figure above.)  If home appears you are ready to go.
Map Page 
Another quick way to verify is to go to the “map page.”  First zoom in to about 800 feet or to a zoom setting where you can see waypoint names on the screen.
Verifying a waypoint will save you a lot of angst and worry later.

Winter Camping and Our Internal Clock

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This interesting news article was in a local paper on February 15.

Article by Brett French, The Billings (Montana) Gazette.

“Camping in winter can be miserable. The nights seem painfully long. I toss, turn and check my watch frequently, wondering how it is that only an hour has passed since I last checked the clock.
New research may give winter campers like me some hope that those cold outings may be of benefit in an unusual way.
According to a study published in “Current Biology” by the Sleep and Chronobiology Lab at the University of Colorado Boulder, sleeping outside is a good way to reset your restless winter internal clock.”

Brett French’s complete article

Go or NoGO

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You are in the backcountry and in a survival situation.  You need to make a decision.  Do you remain in place or “self rescue” and head out.

My friends Peter Kummerfeldt and Leon Pantenburg have both posted articles on this

Blake Miller/Outdoor Quest Image

subject.  This post captures some of their comments and my additional suggestions.

GO – NO GO Decisions”

“Does anyone know you are missing? If you left a “trip plan” with friends or family members, and you did not deviate from the plan, a search will begin as soon as the trip plan expires and the authorities are notified.  The plan should include, at a minimum, your destination, departure and return dates and times, the names of those traveling with you, the kinds of clothing and equipment carried and the outdoor experience of the party.”

Check out a suggested trip plan.
This plan is a critical first step and it’s one taken before leaving for the trail head.  

Blake Miller/Outdoor Quest Image

Critical to this first step is to have the right gear.  A day pack with the “ten essentials
is a must have.

Make a plan.  While waiting for rescue decide if it is better to remain in place or attempt self rescue.  Don’t let your movement compound your situation.

Is anyone in the group injured?  If so don’t leave that individual alone.

Get SAR activated early.  Call 911 and energize a rescue beacon (SPOT, InReach) early while there is still light.  It can take hours before SAR may arrive on the scene. 

Gather the material necessary to build a fire.  

Set up an emergency action shelter.  This can be a tarp or a tent.  

Blake Miller/Outdoor Quest Image

Winter Navigation Hazards

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“Winter hiking navigation is different than three season navigation because easy trails can become unsafe from avalanche danger, deep snow, or dangerous weather conditions. When planning winter hiking routes, it’s important to factor these hazards into your route plans and preparation, even if it means taking a longer and safer route.”


Healthy Eating and Quitting Smoking Permanently

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A healthy diet can have a positive impact on your life in so many ways. It can give you more energy. It can improve your mood significantly. It may even be able to help you quit an unpleasant and persistent smoking habit. If you want to permanently stop smoking, there are numerous healthy food options that may be able to get you on the right track. Eating well can give you a glow that just can’t be replicated. It can also help you achieve a healthier and more balanced lifestyle.
Fantastic and Quick Snack Options
People often smoke out of the desire to eat. If you can’t resist the temptation to smoke, it may help to reach for a healthy snack instead. Examples of nutritious snacks that can fill you up include unsalted nuts, fresh fruits, a bagel, whole wheat bread, whole grain cereal and low-fat yogurt. Strong fruit choices include blueberries, peaches, bananas, apples, grapes and cherries. Frozen fruits can be particularly filling and enjoyable for many. If you make the decision to eat yogurt, go for one that doesn’t have much added sugar. Almonds make a fantastic choice for people who want to nosh on unsalted nuts, too.
Omega-3 Fatty Acid Intake
Omega-3 fatty acids are often thought to minimize nicotine cravings in people. If you want to do away with your desire to puff away on a cigarette, you should make sure you get adequate omega-3 fatty acids in your diet. These fatty acids aren’t only terrific for people who want to stop smoking. They’re also excellent for people who want gorgeous hair and complexions. People who want to decrease their nicotine cravings should consume healthy foods that are chock-full of omega-3 fatty acids. Examples of these foods are chia seeds, flax, wild salmon, soybeans and canola oil.
Concentrate on Food Texture
Various food textures, interestingly enough, may be able to help you stop smoking. If you want to keep cigarettes out of your life, you should reach for healthy foods that are crunchy and crispy. Carrot sticks are a fantastic example. Other appropriate choices are popcorn, nuts, apple slices and celery stalks.
Useful Smoking Alternatives
Healthy foods can be extremely helpful to people who want to quit smoking. There are other options available to people who want to abandon their smoking habits, too, however. E cig juice is one option that’s becoming increasingly popular. If you’re interested in a smoking alternative, vaping may be something to consider. Vape juices definitely aren’t food. They sometimes come in food flavors, though. If you want to stop smoking, you can look for juices in enticing flavors such as strawberry, pineapple, lemon, mango, banana, apple, watermelon, peach, blueberry and grape. These flavors are influenced by some of the healthiest fruits around.
Foods and Beverages to Avoid
If you’re committed to your goal of quitting smoking, you may want to stay away from caffeinated drinks, alcohol and meat for a while. These beverages and foods sometimes improve the flavor of tobacco. That can be a bad thing for people who are trying to stop smoking. Replace these beverages and foods with high vegetable and fruit intake. Vegetables and fruits have the ability to make tobacco taste significantly less appealing. That can be a serious advantage for people who want to keep their smoking habits at bay.
Keep Your Promise
A healthy diet can indeed be helpful to people who want to stop smoking. Vaping can be helpful, too. Those things mean nothing without pure determination, however. If you truly want to make smoking a thing of the distant and dark past, you have to be fully committed to your goal. You have to let nothing get in your way. Smoking doesn’t have to control you. The only thing that can control you is your own mind. You’re powerful enough to combat a lasting smoking habit.

Benchmarks On a Map

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When looking at a US Geologic Survey (USGS) map the hiker will find benchmark symbols sprinkled across the topo.  Benchmark and the many other symbols provide the details of a map.  Symbols represent features such as mines, bridges, dams and many more items.  To see a complete look at symbols visit the USGS site for more information.

Figure <!–[if supportFields]> SEQ Figure * ARABIC <![endif]–>1<!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–> Symbol examples from the USGS Topo Map Symbols web page.
Figure <!–[if supportFields]> SEQ Figure * ARABIC <![endif]–>2<!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–>  Benchmarks on a topographic map.
A benchmark is control point on the map.  Control points are positions of accurate measurement in terms of elevation and position (latitude and longitude.)  Benchmarks are also known informally as “survey markers.”  Originally, these markers were used in land surveying and by civil engineers for construction purposes.  Benchmarks help to accurately determine location.

From’sfrequently asked questions: 

“A benchmark, abbreviated “BM,” is a location whose elevation and horizontal position has been surveyed as accurately as possible. Benchmarks are designed for use as reference points, and are usually marked by small brass plates.”

Occasionally the hiker will find a benchmark plate in the backcountry.  The image below is an example of the brass plate.  These plates should not be tampered with and are not souvenirs to be taken home.

Figure <!–[if supportFields]> SEQ Figure * ARABIC <![endif]–>3<!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–>  Brass benchmark found in the backcountry.

Note the elevation data found in the center of the plate.  Importantly, the elevation information is measured in feet above sea level and not in relation to the adjacent topography. reports that over 740,000 benchmarks are dispersed around the United States.

Though elevation data is provided on the map, coordinate information (e.g., latitude and longitude, UTM) is not.  It’s is up to the hiker to interpolate and determine the information through the use of a map tool.

Remember that the coordinate data provided on a topographic map is in degrees, minutes and seconds (GPS menu settings format: dd mm ss.s) while a new GPS is set at the factory to degrees minutes.minutes (GPS menu settings format: dd mm.m.)

Finding a benchmark can confirm your position on the map. 

To improve you GPS skill level try “Benchmarking,” an activity similar to geocaching.  The objective is to find the brass plates in the field.  For more information visit Geocach.

Monitoring Backcountry Weather – Part 2

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I use my GPS receiver to provide barometric pressure information while hiking in the backcountry.  Barometric pressure data gives the hiker an idea of how the weather is developing and changing.

My weather training began while serving as a deck officer aboard navy destroyers in the 1970’s.  I was specifically directed to monitor the atmospheric pressure while at sea.  In the days before satellite imagery and modern meteorological equipment, barometric pressure was recorded and monitored hourly with weather reports sent to the fleet forecasting center approximately every four hours.   Aboard the ship, the Captain’s standing orders required that I notify him if the barometric pressure dropped more than .04 inches of mercury in four hours; this was a big deal.

As an outdoorsman, I continue to keep a sharp eye on the weather while afield.  At home I frequently check my internet sources such as 
WeatherUnderGround  and watch the weather reports each morning.  In the camp I have a radio with the NOAA broadcasts. 

I also enjoy reading information about the weather.  An excellent reference is Northwest Mountain Weather by Jeff Renner (published by the Mountaineers).  Though out of print, copies are available online through at $0.99 each (not including shipping.)  Renner is professional meteorologist and broadcaster.  He is an outdoorsman and flight instructor.

Renner’s book provides a superb overview on how “the weather works” in the Pacific Northwest.  Uniquely focused to this region, this book provides an overview on the climate and weather, local weather patterns, snow and avalanche conditions and many charts and data sources. 

My personal favorite is Chapter Seven’s “Field Forecasting Guidelines.” This chapter identifies how to watch for and monitor weather system changes. In the subsection “Clues from Pressure Changes” Renner states:

“Remember that a pocket altimeter can give excellent indications of an approaching weather system.  An altimeter that registers an increase in altitude, even though none has taken place, is actually reporting a drop in air pressure.  Changes in pressure create changes in wind and are often related to approaching fronts that may bring precipitation.”

The comments regarding the pocket altimeter apply equally to a GPS receiver equipped with an altimeter.

Following this discussion is a short table regarding pressure drop.  The following is an excerpt and is what I keep an eye on:

Many of the newer Garmin receivers have barometric altimeters.  The Altimeter display can be adjusted provide a Pressure Plot.  An example is shown below.

The green plot illustrates the trend of pressure change over time.  This plot was developed over a 40 hour period for illustrative purposes.  The receiver remained powered up the entire time.  (Turning the receiver off or changing batteries erases the historical data.)

Pressure measurements need not be accurate, it is the trend of information that the hiker is interested in.  A near vertical drop in a short period of time is what we are looking for but hope to avoid: time to look for shelter.

Coupled with observations of the cloud type, temperature and wind, the barometric pressure plot will give the hiker information about how the weather is changing.

Monitoring Backcountry Weather – Part 1

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Monitoring  and tracking the weather is a pastime of mine.    Recently my son reminded me of a little known theorem that helps the hiker’s situational awareness.  This theorem is called Buys-Ballot’s Law.

In 1857 Dutch professor Christopher Buys Ballot postulated that there was a relationship between wind direction and air pressure. Buys-Ballot’s law provides a rough approximation of the location and direction of the low pressure system as it tracks through a region.

Simply put in the northern hemisphere, if one faces the wind, the center of a low pressure system will be to the right and slightly behind the observer.  High pressure will be to the left and slightly ahead of the observer.   Further, weather systems in the northern hemisphere track from west to east.  

Importantly for the hiker, a low pressure system is associated with rain, snow and bad weather in general.  A high pressure system is associated with improving weather conditions.

So, if the hiker determines that high pressure is to the west of the present location, and because the system will move from west to east, the weather may be improving.

The YouTube video by meteorologist Vince Condella presents this nicely; video

Buys-Ballots Law coupled with a GPS are both useful tools to improve the hiker’s ability to monitor and anticipate the weather in the backcountry.

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What do you do when a compass breaks or the GPS just doesn’t seem to be working right?  Here are a few suggestions that will help the navigator.

The theme of this post is to discuss what options the backcountry navigator has with equipment that might not be working correctly. 

When equipment does not appear to provide the correct indication (such as the GPS bearing to the trail head) it’s time to stop.  Never rush navigation.  Stop and take the time to really look over the information provided.  Consult with the rest of the group.

Being able to recognize the proper operation of the hiker’s equipment is important.  This is obtained through field checks well before any trip.  The gas stove can be tested at home before the journey.  The navigation kit can be evaluated throughout the year at the local park or forest. I recommend to the elk and deer hunters in my GPS classes to take their receiver everywhere they go for two weeks prior to leaving for camp.  Push buttons, change displays, mark a waypoint and finally, return to a destination.  Like a pilot of a plane, a map, compass and GPS are the instruments in the backcountry cockpit.

Normally a magnetic compass’ needle rotates freely.  The needle rotates on a jeweled pivot point.  The magnetic compass should be kept level while in use allowing the magnetic needle to move about in the compasses housing.  My Suunto recently just stopped rotating.  I would change direction about 30 degrees and the magnetic needle would move about 15 degrees and then just hang up.

Sadly, there is no simple in the field fix for this.  I gently tapped the compass body and checked the movement of the housing but nothing seemed to work.  Never let broken gear clutter your pack or be used mistakenly.

A back up compass is very helpful in such a situation.  It doesn’t have to be expensive, just reliable.  No matter what you use for a back up, it has to work well and requires testing.  I take all my new compasses to a location in town where the streets run north and south (degrees true.)  I will hike the streets insuring that the compass is on the mark.  This only takes a few minutes.  Recently I noticed that one of my small ball compasses seemed to be at least 20 degrees off; it’s a goner.  Note, that a small back up compass may not be as precise as your primary model.  Also recognize that some compass will only provide a trend of direction such as moving in a northerly direction as opposed to tracking on a direction of 025°.

Before throwing a quality compass out, contact the manufacturer to see what the warrantee offers.

So what does the hiker do if the GPS receiver appears to be broken?   .

The following are steps that I’ll perform:

1.    If I have a GPS with an electronic compass I’ll ensure the compass is activated.  For example on the Garmin 60 series, pressing and holding the “page” button will turn the compass on or off.

2.    I’ll ensure the electronic compass is calibrated.  The compass must be calibrated after each battery change.

3.    Check the charge on the batteries.  If in doubt replace them.

4.    When the “Go To, Find or Where Is” option has been selected, older models will require motion to cause the compass arrow and displays to adjust.  Take five or more steps and see if there are any changes with the display.

5.    Turn the GPS receiver off, open the battery case and remove one battery for about twenty seconds, return the battery and power up the receiver again. 

6.    Once powered up, I want to be certain that the receiver has captured the signals from at least four satellites.

7.    Worse case – call the manufacturer.  Call early in the morning.

In the field, I leave my receiver powered on, collecting data the entire trip.  I keep my receiver in a holster that attaches to one of my shoulder straps.  Before leaving the trail head I “dump the junk” and get rid of old waypoints (e.g., last year’s fishing trip hot spots), I reset data fields on the odometer page and I will clear out my track log.  As I hike, my receiver is collecting all my trail data.  Should my receiver’s compass display fail I can follow my track (the “bread crumb trail” on the map page) back to the trail head.

Lastly, I will consult my map. Using the major land features (e.g., ridge lines, peaks, etc.) I will orient the map, determine my location (using terrain association) and direction of travel.

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In late November 2013 my local newspaper, the Bend Bulletin (Bend, Oregon) published a supplementary insert called the High Desert Pulse.  On page 28 there was a superb article by Elise Gross titled “Cover Your Bases.”

A base layer is the garment worn closest to the skin.  In the past, most outdoorsmen thought of a base layer as a simple set of “long johns.”  The days of cotton long johns are fading.  Cotton clothing retains moisture and in winter provides no insulation when wet. 

 Ms. Gross provided a fine discussion of the options of the various base layer choices available to the hiker.

She states:

“.. Your activity level and the temperature should be taken into account when choosing a base layer.”

“Fabric type should also be considered.  Base layers are made of a variety of fabrics with unique properties.”

The following is a brief synopsis of what is available.

·         Wool – Merino wool is at the top of my list.  Merino is soft and doesn’t irritate the skin.  Smart Wool is my favorite.  Wool works well in mild to cold temps.  Wool wicks sweat away from the skin.  It dries relatively quickly.  Wool is antibacterial so it doesn’t start to smell over time as silk and poly does.  It’s expensive.

·         Silk – Silk that has been modified to improve wicking is a fine choice (untreated silk absorbs and retains moisture).  Silk works well during periods of heavy physical exertion.  Though it can get too warm, silk works well in cold climates.  Silk takes longer to dry than wool or polyester.  Silk can get stinky so launder after use.

·         Synthetics – These are popular big sellers and big advertisers in outdoor magazines (e.g., Under Amour).  Synthetics are fine in moderate temperatures.  Wet material close to the skin may be chilly until dry.  Moisture wicking is excellent; that’s the big plus.  Synthetics dry faster than any other base layer material.  Synthetics can get stinky so launder after each use.  

All products mentioned are light and take up little space.
Consider carrying an extra top to keep the hiker dry and warm. 

Buying a GPS After The Holidays

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The post Holiday Season is a great time to start looking for a new GPS.  There will be sales over the next few weeks.  Manufactures are offering discounts and coupons can be found on line.  Search the Internet for sales promotions and the ads in the Sunday paper.  I will occasionally use to establish a price baseline.  Take a look at too.

Be careful when using “Craig’s List.”

Some models with good discounts could very well be out of production units and discontinued.  Evaluate what your needs are and if the price is right and the receiver fits all your requirements, then you are set.

One web site to take a look at is is packed with information on what’s new and happening in the world of GPS.  Importantly, at the top of the page, click on “buyers guide” and then select the category that fits your requirements (e.g., auto, outdoors, etc.)

I think the recommendations provided are spot on the mark.

What would I avoid? I am very cautious when buying used GPS or one that has been refurbished.

I want a model that allows me to:

Sighting With a Magnetic Compass

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Sighting with a compass is an important skill that can determine direction to an object or help the hiker locate and identify his position in the backcountry.
A compass is an important part of the backcountry navigator’s kit.  The use of Global
Positioning System (GPS) receivers has simplified navigation to an extent but the knowledge of how to use a compass is still important; do not underestimate this skill.  
“A compass is basically a magnet mounted on a pivot, free to turn in response to the pull of the earth’s magnetic field.  The housing protects the needle and helps you relate the direction in which the needle points to directions on the map and on the land.  A compass by itself can’t tell you where you are or what you are looking at but it can tell you about direction….”
Staying Found, The Complete Map & Compass Handbook, by June Fleming
Sighting with a compass allows the hiker to determine the direction to an object such as a mountain peak.  The compass direction to an object is known as the “bearing” or azimuth.   Bearing is the more common term in outdoor recreation and is a term used heavily in GPS navigation.  For example, if a mountain peak is due north of you, the bearing to the peak is 000° (read as zero zero zero degrees.)
Sighting with a compass allows the hiker to do several things.  First, sighting on a distant object can provide direction to that object and repeated sightings can provide course corrections along the way.  Secondly, with several sightings on different objects a person’s position can be triangulated. 
This article will focus on using a standard baseplate compass such as the two examples pictured below.  (The lensatic and military compass will not be discussed.)
Figure 1 Two examples of good baseplate compasses.
Key features of the two compasses (above) include:
  • They are declination adjustable
  • Liquid filled housing to dampen the magnetic needle’s movement
  • 2° increments on the bearing dial of the compass housing
  • A clear baseplate of adequate size with map scale information and a small magnifier.
The picture below offers a quick review of the components of a baseplate compass.

To sight or take a bearing do the following:
  1. Using the owner’s manual, adjust the compass for declination.
  2. While holding the compass at waist level, turn squarely towards a distant object.  Hold the compass so that the direction of travel arrow points directly at the object. (Point the      direction of travel arrow away from you; perpendicular to your body.)

  1. While holding the compass, turn the compass housing (the dial) and align the orienting arrow (engraved in the rotating housing) underneath the red magnetic needle.

  1. In this example, the compass has been adjusted to a bearing of 011° degrees.  The bearing data is found where the direction of travel arrow intersects the compass housing.
At this point the hiker can walk towards the object (e.g., mountain peak, or abuilding) on a bearing of 011°.
If the hiker needs to determine his position, the next step is to triangulate using three bearings.  In a “nut shell” this means that bearings to three clearly identifiable features are used.  Ideally, objects that have a bearing separation of 30° – 60° will be used.  Good bearing separation provides better fixing information and plots on the map cleanly.  The bearings are then plotted on a map and where the three lines cross is the hiker’s location.  This complete process is called triangulation.
The following are suggestions for triangulating a position in the back country.
  1. Identify three distinct objects to sight on.  Note that the objects need to be on the topographic map (topo) of the area.  I recommend carrying a forest service map (or something similar) of the area in addition to the topo just incase the objects are too far away.
  2. Orient the topo using the compass.  Orienting the topo means that the map’s left or right border is pointing to true north or 000° degrees true.  See “Orienting a Map” for more information.
  3. Sight on an object such as a mountain peak or church spire.  (Note that not many objects in the backcountry are so distinct and crisp.  Do the best with what you have.) Ensure the direction of travel arrow is pointed towards the object.
  4. As discussed earlier, turn the compass housing until the orienting arrow is directly under red magnetic needle.  Do not move or rotate the compass housing, keep the new bearing in place.
  5. At this point, and while plotting the bearing on the map, the compass will now be used like a protractor.
  6. Lay the compass on the map with either the top left or right corner of the baseplate on the landmark.  This will be a pivot point while aligning the compass.
  7. With the edge of the baseplate in position, rotate the compass (swing) left or right until the N (north) of the compass housing aligns with map North (the top of the map.)  What is even better, with the map oriented to north, as the baseplate is rotated, the red magnetic needle will swing back into position on top of the orienting arrow. 
  8. Draw a line (along the baseplate) from the object to your approximate area.
  1. Repeat the process two more times.

  1. Ideally the three lines will intersect in the immediate area but because of compass error and human error the point of intersection maybe spread out.  Still, triangulation will put you in the ballpark.  Use terrain association to help narrow down your position.

Topographic Map Symbols

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Colors and symbols add the detail unique to a topographic map.  These details may not be found in gazetteers or travel guides.  Map detail includes important information about elevation, water, structures, trails, ground cover and roads; and much more.

 “The mapmaker has been forced to use symbols to represent the natural and man-made features of the earth’s surface.  These symbols resemble, as closely as possible, the actual features themselves as viewed from above.”

                                                                        U.S. Army Field Manual FM 21-28                                                                                                     Map Reading and Land Navigation, 1993

Topographic maps are rich in symbols.  Specific to a location, symbols identify features such as buildings, springs, bench marks, mines and bridges.  The United States Geologic Survey’s (USGS) guide Topographic Map Symbols is four pages long and lists dozens of symbols.  To view the USGS’s complete listing go here.

The following graphics are a sampling from Topographic Map Symbols.  The symbols below are those used for rivers, lakes and canals.  Note the different colors used.

The graphic below illustrates symbols related to buildings and other man-made features.

Note that the color of these symbols is predominantly black.

Let’s highlight a few symbols that the backcountry hiker will find helpful (the symbol will be listed to the left.)

 Bench Marks are survey monuments.  Location and elevation data is accurate.   Bench Mark will be represented by the letters BM and next to it will be printed the elevation data; see map above.  In the backcountry, Bench Marks will have a brass/bronze plate at the location to identify the mark and its position data.  Please do not tamper with a Bench Mark.

A trail is highlighted in the map above.  Trails are black dashed lines.

     Useful to the hiker are four wheel drive roads (4WD) and unimproved roads.  These are commonly called jeep roads and may be usable on foot, horseback or mountain bike.  Some of these roads may not be passable by vehicle.           
Thin, powder-blue lines represent streams.  What looks like a dashed blue line (right half) represents an intermittent stream; a flow that may disappear in dry weather.

I recommend spending some time browsing through Topographic Map Symbols and to become familiar with the symbols listed. The web site provides a fine review of colors and symbols that are linked to photographs.s

The Declination Diagram

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Topographic map users are familiar with the small diagram at the bottom of the map. 

The diagram is located at the bottom center of the map.
Let’s zoom in to the diagram itself.

The graphic and information presented relates directly to the declination of the map area, orientation of magnetic north, orientation of grid north and true north. 

Let’s discuss what that all means.
The line on the left with the star on top is the reference to true north.  True north is the principle geographic reference on all maps.  True north is oriented to the North Pole, the top of the earth.  The left and right borders of a topographic map are aligned to true north too.  True north is the principle compass orientation that the backcountry traveler will use with compass navigation.
Care should be taken when looking at the other grid lines on a map.  For example, not all township and range lines are oriented to true north.  The red lines on the map below

represent township and range.  The red numbers refer to each of the 36 sections found in a township. (A section is a square that is one mile by one mile on each side.)  Determine if these red line are oriented to true north in advance of your trip.

The next line over is “grid.”  Grid in this case refers to Universal Transverse Mercator Grid (UTM).  UTM is a derivative of the military’s grid reference system and came about after World War Two.
Some maps come with UTM grid lines laid out in a shade of light blue.  Many topographic maps only have UTM tick marks (color blue) along the four sides of the map.  The map above has those tick marks.  Small they can be seen as numbers 6 21 and 22 at the bottom.  If one was to use a straight edge to connect the 6 21 at top and bottom the line drawn would be in relation to grid on the declination diagram.  (For more information on UTM Grid check out Lawrence Letham’s book GPS Made Easy from library.)
The last line refers to magnetic north.  This data is circled in red (below.)

The line with the partial arrow head points to magnetic north (MN.)   Without getting bogged down in the pole’s location, the key thing is to understand is that magnetic north is what a compass’ red magnetic needle point to. The numerical value of 19° refers to the declination; the angular measurement between true and magnetic north.  In this case, the declination is 19° East.  It is this value that the hiker will compensate for in navigation. 

To keep things simple, I use a declination adjusted compass so that I do not have to calculate compass values.  For example, if the hiker is using a standard compass, 19° East declination (from the West Coast) would be subtracted from a bearing/azimuth of 100° True to get the correct magnetic heading.  This gets a bit sticky and that is why an adjustable compass is so valuable.  With an adjustable compass, you adjust the compass housing once for the local declination.  Once adjusted you are set and won’t need to worry about adding or subtracting the declination value.
The declination value on older maps has probably changed from what is printed.  Declination changes over time.  As a matter of routine I visit to get the correct value before leaving home.

The north star

New Backpacker’s Gas Stove

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It has been a while since Hikin’Jim evaluated a new stove.  

“OK, so, what’s all this about the Soto Amicus? I mean why all the fuss? There are dozens of upright canister gas stoves available out there. Primus, MSR, Optimus, Snow Peak, Jetboil, etc. – in short, all the major stove companies – have upright canister stoves out on the market, in fact, most of those companies have multiple stoves available. So who cares about just one more upright canister gas stove? Big deal. Yawn. Well, maybe. But maybe not. Maybe there’s more to it than that. Let’s keep reading, and we shall see. The New Soto Amicus OK, so why am I excited? Well, I’ll….” 

Hikin’ Jim’s blog – Adventures in Stoving is one to book mark .

Your Personal Outdoor Plan

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There are lots of articles and posts discussing the importance of  letting a responsible person know about your travel plans .  Should you not return home on time they are the trigger to begin the search process.

Further, building your personal outdoor plan is important too.

Outdoor Quest/Blake Miller image

After the loss of James Kim in the Oregon back country in 2006 I wrote a hiker’s trip plan and posted it on my web site.  I had input from several valued sources.  I wanted something better for the wilderness traveler than a note to a neighbor.  My intent was to provide the search responders something valuable to go by.

In far too many SAR missions, the reporting party has little information for the searchers to go on to begin their search.

My plan can be found here.  It is a basic .pdf form.

Suggestions are certainly welcome.

Recently while reading a Linkedin email, I received a tip on what might be the most complete plan yet.  It’s from Paul Kirtley’s blog.  He is an  experienced bush craft author in the UK.  This plan is much like the hiker’s flight plan.  It includes a place for a picture of the hiker, data for one’s route and much more.

Check out Paul Kirtley’s plan here.

911 Call center

Still, that responsible person plays a huge role in contacting authorities to begin a search.  My recommendation would be to pick a person that will make the 911 phone call without hesitation.

Travel safely.

Navigating a Topographic Map

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Reviewing a topographic map is usually the starting point for the planning of any back country trip.  A topographic map is your road map to the outdoors.  It provides you detailed information at a scale that is meaningful and detailed.  For years, the US Geologic Survey (USGS) has been the principal publisher of accurate maps.  Within the last decade we have seen many innovations in mapping products that include new mapping companies and publishers, software, maps for the GPS, and “Apps” for the iPhone.

Outdoor Quest/Blake Miller image
Still, the USGS map remains the standard for back country navigation (visit the USGS’s site at   I’d also recommend looking at June Fleming’s “Staying Found” or Bjorn Kjellstrom’s “Be Expert With Map & Compass.”  Once you develop a map foundation you will easily shift to many of the other products on the market today. 

Many publications, videos, and web sites will give you a te rundown on the features, symbols and components to a map.  This article will discuss a few of the key features that you should be aware on a 7.5 minute map.

·         Contour Lines These are the thin brown lines that snake across the map.  Contour lines connect equal points of elevation such that every point on that line will be at that elevation above sea level.  Visually, the contour lines give you a mental three dimensional view of the terrain.  These lines provide a view of slope and pitch, depressions, ridge lines and level ground; the highs and lows of the earth’s surface.

Outdoor Quest/Blake Miller image

 These lines provide shape and a sense of texture. There are two primary types of lines, index and intermediate lines.  Index lines stand out as they are a touch wider, a darker shade of brown and indicate the elevation with numbers such as 4500; the elevation is in feet.  Between the index lines are the thin intermediate line that are spaced uniformly and further define the elevation, slope and contour.  The intervals between the intermediate lines are specified at the bottom of the map adjacent to the scale data.

·     Scale Consider scale as your view of the map; it is like your “overhead zoom” setting.  To cut to the chase, a 7.5 minute map or quadrangle has a scale that is referred to as 1:24,000; where one inch is equal to 2000 feet.  It is your best source of information of the back country.  At this scale, the map has much more validity and provides more usable information for your backcountry planning.  You can view important landmarks, streams and geographic features.  To complete the navigation picture I always refer a second map, such as a map of the national forest (e.g., the Deschutes National Forest.)  Commonly, such a map will be “zoomed” way out and have a scale of 1:100,000 or 1:250,000.  Imagine that such a map would be made up of many 7.5 minute quadrangles.

·    North  Features on a map such as trails, roads, mountain peaks and streams are all laid out in relation to true North; the North Pole.  The north-south borders of the map and the small declination diagram are your best references for true North.  Other grid lines (such as the red Township, Section and Range lines) may not be aligned to true north at all.  Be careful of these lines should you need to triangulate your position on a map.

·    Declination This is the angular difference between true North and Magnetic North.  The red needle on your magnetic compass points to Magnetic North.  The accuracy of the information found in the Declination Diagram is dependent on the age of the map.  To get the latest declination for any area visit

Personally I use a magnetic compass that I can adjust for declination; it just makes my navigation easier.  When adjusted, my compass provides bearing information in degrees true as does my map and my adjusted GPS.

·    Coordinates Latitude and Longitude (Lat/Long) are the familiar coordinate system to most outdoorsmen and women.  Coordinate data is found at the top and bottom corners of each map.  Lat/Long coordinate increments are also found every 2’ (minutes) and 30” (seconds) on the sides of the Map.  A scaling device is necessary to pull complete coordinates off a map; this is a pain.

In the 1940’s a coordinate system know as Universal Transverse Mercator (UTM) was developed.  To keep a very long story short, your 7.5 minute map has a new grid laid over it, the grid dimensions are 1000 meters by 1000 meters.  For more complete information on UTM grid visit the USGS’s web site UTM or Lathem’s “GPS Made Easy” (which is probably at your local library.)

Simplicity is the essence of UTM.  Scouts, hunters and hikers have joined Search and Rescue (SAR) teams around the country in using this system. 

Your GPS receiver can easily be switched to UTM from the set-up menu.

·    Bar Scales   Notice the bar scales at the bottom of the 7.5 minute map.  The scales provide measuring data in miles, feet and meters.   On the far left side of the meter scale, the scale is broken down into units of 100 meters, this applies directly to UTM.

Notice on the scale bar (feet) that 1 inch equals 2000 feet.

·    Map Datum Information about map datum is found in the lower left corner of a 7.5 minute map.  I have found that the simplest definition from GPS maker Garmin is:

“A math model which depicts a part of the surface of the earth. Latitude and longitude lines on a paper map are referenced to a specific map datum. The map datum selected on a GPS receiver needs to match the datum listed on the corresponding paper map in order for position readings to match.”

The bottom line: most 7.5 minute maps are made to the North American datum of 1927 (NAD27 or NAD27 CONUS on your GPS).  New GPS receivers are set to datum WGS84.  The difference between the datum could be over 100 meters/yards.  The solution: When pulling points off a map shift your GPS’s datum to match the map. 

If precision is not an issue for your outing don’t worry about datum.

As you begin your trip planning don’t forget the magnetic compass, the important partner to any topographic map.  See Selecting a magnetic Compass for more information about buying a good compass.

Ten Essentials and the Norwegian Mountain Code

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While researching the ten essentials a few years ago I came across a post about the Norwegian Mountain Code.

1967, Norway tragically lost 18 backcountry hikers during an Easter weekend storm.  Later the Norwegian Red Cross and Norwegian Mountain Touring coordinated the development of the code; a common sense approach to back country winter travel.

The code compliments the Ten Essentials and builds on it.

The Norwegian Mountain Code captures the elements of travel that includes:

Plan your trip and inform others
about the route you have selected.
Adapt the planned routes
according to ability and conditions.
Pay attention to the weather
and the
Be prepared for bad weather and frost,
even on short trips.

Bring the necessary equipment
so you can help yourself and others.

Choose safe routes.
Recognize avalanche terrain and unsafe ice.       
Use a map and a compass.
Always know where you are.
Don’t be afraid to turn around
Conserve your energy and seek shelter if necessary.

Defining Compass Bearing and Heading

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Bearing and heading are two commonly used terms and two of the most misunderstood.  This post will define and review both terms. 

A dictionary defines the word bearing as:

“….horizontal direction of one point with respect to another or to the compass.”

Simply stated a bearing is the angular direction to an object.  Bearings are described in degree increments from either true or magnetic north.

A compass bearing and heading is measured from north clockwise in 360° increments. The point from which the bearing originates is from the center of an imaginary circle.  This imaginary point is the operator.

Leave No Trace

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The following is by contributing writer Lee.  Here he expands on the principles of leave no trace.
Leave No Trace: How to Enjoy Backpacking Without Damaging Nature

One of the most enjoyable ways to spend time is to go backpacking. Getting out of the concrete city and back into the embrace of nature is one of the best ways to recharge your batteries and satisfy your soul. You have to be careful when you go hiking not to let the dirtiness of the city enter into the pristine wilderness. The only ethical way to hike is to leave no trace behind. You have to embrace this philosophy totally. Here is a guide on how you can enjoy backpacking without damaging nature.
Travel the Proper Paths
Although they say you should leave nothing but footprints when you go into the wilderness, even your footprints can be damaging if you are hiking in sensitive areas. You can hurt wildlife and plants alike when you go tromping through areas where you don’t belong. You can also contribute to damaging erosion if you hike off-trail.
To prevent this, you should always stay on the marked trails whenever you go hiking. Don’t cut across switchbacks or look for shortcuts that leave the marked trails in a wilderness area. If you are hiking in the backcountry, try to blaze trails that go through open areas where you will do as little damage as possible. Always keep your eyes open to avoid stepping on wildlife or sensitive plants. If you are hiking the backcountry in a group, do not travel single-file so that you keep the damage you cause to a minimum.
Campsites Are Best Found
Whenever possible, you should always try to camp at an established campsite. Camping at a brand-new campsite will always damage nature at least a little bit. If you are camping in the backcountry away from campgrounds, you should camp at least 200 feet away from water sources to avoid disturbing wildlife. Try to select a flat, level area that has as little vegetation as possible to keep your impact on the site to a minimum.


Leave Nothing Behind

The most important thing you must do when you go hiking is to leave no garbage behind of any kind. This includes every kind of waste. If nature calls when you are in the middle of it, then you need to have a trowel with you so that you can bury your waste. You need to pack out every scrap of waste that you create when you are hiking in the wilderness. The most conscientious hikers will actively look for garbage while they are on the trail, picking up anything they spot so that they can leave the area more beautiful than they found it.
Use Fire Responsibly
Gathering around the campfire to sing songs and cook s’mores is one of the most enjoyable ways to finish up a day of hiking, but you need to enjoy your campfires responsibly. Always follow the rules of the area you are in. Sometimes, campfires will be banned because of dry conditions or hot weather. You need to respect these bans.
Always use caution when you are making fires out in the wild. Use established fire pits if they are available. If they are not, keep your campfire small to reduce its impact. Burn all your wood down to ash, and then completely douse the fire with water before you leave the area. Make sure the ashes are cool to the touch before you go.
Don’t Smoke
Cigarettes and hiking don’t mix. The smoke won’t do your lungs any favor on the trail, and you don’t want to haul around dirty old cigarette butts your entire hike. Instead, you should use e-liquid vaporizerswhen you are hiking. This will satisfy your cravings without damaging the environment.
Hiking is a lot of fun. You must respect nature so that generations from now your ancestors will still be able to enjoy the beauty of our world. Following these guidelines will allow you to keep your impact to a minimum when you are hiking through the great outdoors.

Lee Flynn is a freelance writer. Through small local workshops and articles, Lee trains and teaches others on home preparation, healthy living, food storage techniques, and self reliance

How Accurate is a GPS Receiver’s Calculations.

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I have often wondered about the accuracy of my Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver. 

The accuracy inherent in my receiver has generally been “good enough for me.” That said, I was interested in finding technical information to build on my field experience.

I did a bit of google surfing and found a fine article from Outside Magazine writer Erin Beresini titled Your GPS Is Lying to You About Distance,  Outside Magazine, Dec. 7, 2015.  She distills a complex scientific paper by researchers into understandable terms.

The bottom line for backcountry hiker is that GPS receivers overestimate distance.  There are three reasons for this:

  1. “The first is positioning error, or the fact that there’s a difference between where you actually are and where your GPS thinks you are at any given point in time.
  2. The second error is the variance of the GPS measurement. Even if you don’t move, the samples your GPS takes won’t each be in the same location. In other words, your samples will form a cloudlike cluster of points around your actual location. The smaller that cluster and the closer it is to your actual location..,
  3.  The third is the autocorrelation of GPS measurements. If each measurement is off from your actual location by approximately the same amount, they’re said to be highly autocorrelated, ”  Outside Magazine, Dec. 7, 2015. 

There are many other factors that impact the accuracy of a GPS receiver.  These include atmospherics, solar flares, heavy treed canopy, terrain masking and freeway overpasses.   ]In discussions with serious back country hikers ( Search and Rescue members) heavy weather can impact accuracy.

To improve GPS receiver accuracy consider enabling the Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS).  Newer units can also take advantage of the Russian satellite system known as GLONASS. It is similar to our GPS system. Enabling WAAS and GLONASS combined offers a significant increase in available satellites for navigation process and give the receiver the time needed to establish solid positioning information.

Hard numbers are only vague estimates.  For example, a basic recreation receiver should be accurate to +/- 15 meters.  With WAAS enabled accuracy could become as good as +/- 3 meters.

A GPS receiver is great to have but don’t leave the map and compass at home.

GPS Accuracy

More On GPS Accuracy

Map and Compass Basics

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Looking for a good overview of map and compass basic  procedures. Take a look at United States Search and Rescue Task Force’s post on map and compass basics.  The following is a excerpt from this site:

“A topographic map tells you where things are and how to get to them, whether you’re hiking, biking, hunting, fishing, or just interested in the world around you. These maps describe the shape of the land. They define and locate natural and man made features like woodlands, waterways, important buildings, and bridges. They show the distance between any two places, and they also show the direction from one point to another.”

Map and Compass 

Best Selling GPS Receivers

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Frequently I am asked what is the best GPS receiver to buy? To answer that question  I went to Rich Owings’ website to find what are the best selling receivers in the “sport/hiking” category..

Garmin eTrex 30 
Garmin Oregon 450 
Garmin Dakota 20 
Garmin Monterra

I would add to this roster the GarminGPSMap 64s or 62s.

All of the above models are fine models to buy but I like the size and push button reliable characteristics of 60 series.  I feel that the buttons are more resilient to the rigors of the outdoors.

To read more about buying a GPS:

    Buying a GPS Receiver

    Buying a Used GPS Receiver


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GPS users need to be aware of the impact that a solar flare would have on land navigation and communications.

Take a look at FOX  News post by Michael Harthorne                                                   

“A big enough solar flare could wipe out electricity on Earth. The White House announced Thursday it wants to be ready.  (AP Photo/NASA)   


If a giant solar flare hit the Earth, it could knock out the entire power grid, meaning no more new Justin Bieber singles, no more televised presidential debates, and no more Facebook photos of babies.

But it wouldn’t be all good news. The Washington Post reports the electromagnetic pulse—or EMP—created by such an event could wipe out electricity for months on end, creating a global catastrophe. recent post outlines the current administrations plans to prepare the USA for a solar flare’s impact.”

Hiking and Navigating at Night

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What should the hiker consider regarding night time travel in the backcountry?

First, let us decide  that  this is not in a “lost hiker” scenario.  If lost, the best thing to do is to

just stay in place.  This makes the job much easier for the searchers. 

At night the term used to describe our ability to see is “night vision.”   Good night vision is important.  Therefore, avoid bright lighting.   Flashes of bright white light will ruin night vision.  Recovery can take about 30-45 minutes.  Low level white light and low intensity red light are better.
Care should be taken with the use of a GPS.  The normal white backlight function of the GPS receiver will impair night vision. The good news is that the backlight can be adjusted. 
Here are a few recommendations:
  • Stay on the trail and thoughtfully use flashlights and head lamps. A head lamp may be of more use than a handheld flashlight.  Two free hands are better than one.  Have extra batteries.
  • Examine the topographic map of your planned route.  Study the contours to evaluate the terrain. Your visual cues will be gone so you will need to establish new ones, larger objects. Lanes of extraction might present themselves on the map such as a power grid line, a road, a lake or an old jeep track. 
  • Discuss your plan with all involved so that you are all on the same page.
  • Follow your trace on a map. Plot your position frequently.  Agree in advance how often you will do that.  Take your time with your navigation.
  • For night time travel a consideration may be to have one person designated to read maps (with dim lighting) while others in the party preserve their night vision and lead the way.
  • Move forward deliberately and cautiously.  Move more like you are stalking.
  • Others might be moving too.  Be alert for bears, coyotes, cougars and in some areas perhaps wolves.
  • Trekking poles or a walking staff provide support.
  • Sound travels well at night.  Be alert for audible clues to roads and running water.
  •  If you don’t have a GPS and are navigating with just a map and compass it is very important that you start from a known position.  Navigating without getting position fixes from a GPS or by visual sighting is called dead reckoning.  Such navigation requires you to plot your compass heading and distance traveled.  Distance is accounted by pacing (counting your steps) as you move
Night time navigation is not something to be taken lightly.  From reviewing my books, US Army field manuals and conversations with experienced backcountry travelers it should be carefully considered and practiced before an actual outing.  Practise your navigation at a local park with map and compass.  Consider geocaching to improve your GPS skills. 

Keep Critters Out of Your Food.

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5 Ways to Keep Critters Out of Food While Camping

A new post by guest contributor Lee.
You’re on a camping trip. You wake up one morning and climb out of your sleeping bag, ready for breakfast. There’s only one problem: an animal got into your food stash and ate everything you had, down to the last granola bar.
This doesn’t have to happen to you. There are things you can do to make sure that the local wildlife doesn’t leave you starving in the middle of nowhere. Here are five ways to keep critters out of your food stash while camping.


1. Bring a Bear Canister

A bear canister is a hard-sided container designed to keep animals, especially bears, out of your food. They weigh anywhere from two to four pounds and can store between six to 15 liters of food. These containers are virtually impossible to break open using brute strength, and they are usually too big to carry away.
Unfortunately, bear canisters aren’t cheap; they cost between $60 to $80. The good news is that, once you buy a bear canister, you don’t have to buy it again. You’ll be able to use it on multiple camping trips for years to come.


2. Use Publicly Established Bear Lockers

Some national parks, such as Yosemite, provides bear lockers in which you can stash your food. These lockers are typically located around parking lots and campgrounds.
If you do use these lockers, make sure your food is clearly marked. You probably don’t like it when someone at work accidentally grabs your food from the office refrigerator. The same thing can happen at a public bear locker, especially if you’re using generic-looking coolers or plastic grocery bags.
Make a small label and tape it to your container so that other campers know to keep their hands off of your dehydrated food.
3. Store Your Food High And Out of Reach
If you can’t afford a bear container and there are no bear lockers around, you can try hanging your food from a tree branch.
The best type of cord to use is paracord, and you’ll want it to be at least 100 feet in length.
Tie one end of the cord to a rock and the other end to your food bag. Find a branch that’s 20 feet high, and throw your rock over that branch. Pull on the cord until your food is suspended in the air, and tie off the paracord around the tree trunk.
4. Store All Scented Items Along With Your Food
A bear’s sense of smell is 2100 times more powerful than a human’s, and unfortunately, they don’t know the difference between raspberries and lotions that smelllike raspberries. It’s all potential food to them.
Store anything that has a scent inside your food bag, whether that item can actually be eaten or not. The same goes for your cookware, utensils and food waste.


5. Keep Your Food Far Away From Your Campsite

Even if you manage to firmly secure all of your food items, that doesn’t mean those items still won’t attract animals.
This can be a problem, especially at night. Small animals could disturb your sleep, and bigger animals, such as bears, could be potentially dangerous.
Keep your food between 100 to 200 feet away from your campsite. Be sure to store those items downwind from your campsite, so that animals don’t cross your sleeping area on their way to your food.
Additionally, don’t leave anything in your backpack overnight, and leave all its compartments unzipped. If a curious animal does find its way to your bag, it’s less likely to rip or chew it open in order to explore what’s inside.
These five tips to keep critters out of your food will go a long way towards keeping your food secure and helping you stay safe. Properly securing your food doesn’t just reduce the chances of a negative interaction with an animal; it also helps ensure that you’ll have a great camping trip.

Lee Flynn is a freelance writer. Through small local workshops and articles, Lee trains and teaches others on home preparation, healthy living, food storage techniques, and self reliance.

GPS Map Datum

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For most hikers, the map datum selection isn’t critical.  New and right out of the box, GPS receivers are set to Map Datum WGS84. And for most hikers that setting will be just fine. Out and back – no problem.

But if you are going to take coordinates taken from a map or from a friend, AND accuracy is important, ensure you use the right map datum.

Map Datum is defined as:

“A mathematical model of the Earth used by map makers.  Datum allows for the accurate transfer of geographic data from a spherical earth to a flat map.  In the United States, there are three common map datum’s found on topographic maps.  These are WGS 84, North American Datum 1927 (NAD27) and NAD83.  Select the datum that is used on the map. ” 

 Not selecting the correct map datum could induce an error of over 100 meters/yards. I emphasize that hiking groups should all be on the “same page” regarding the set-up options of their GPS receivers. 

Map Datum information is found in the map key on most maps.  

While planning a journey or at the trail head, taking the time to adjust settings among hiking partners is critical.  Before departing, validating map datum and coordinate format should be a priority.

First, match the map’s datum.  A topographic map identifies datum in the map key.  Once the datum is identified ensure that all GPS receivers are set to match the correct datum.  See the illustration below.

For more information on GPS setup setting check out:

Improving GPS AccuracySetup Your GPS


First Aid Kits

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There are lots of options available to the hiker when building a fist aid kit.

The American Red Cross has a listing online that identifies what you might consider.

John D. McCann’s book Build The Perfect Survival Kit is a fine resource that offers several lists of what should be contained in a kit.  I particularly like how his kit changes with regard to activity.  For example, a day hiker might not carry as much gear as the Search And Rescue team member.

Adventure Medical offers several kits for purchase.  SeattleBackPackersMagazine has a quick post for you to review.

Survival – Leaving a Message

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John D. McCann’s facebook post today reminded me about the ability to leave a message or a note when one is lost. Check out McCann’s web site.

It’s not rocket science.  Just a simple note to say “I need help.”

I use the Rite In The Rain products quite a bit. Their note books are rugged and reliable.

Don’t forget to fill out your travel plan.  Leave this plan with a responsible person who will call for help (911) if you don’t return home on time.

Ten Essentials

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After a recent two day SAR mission I thought it best to post  about the Ten Essentials again.

What is the right stuff to carry in the outdoors?  What is the minimum?  What should you

consider before hitting the trail?

A climbing group in the 1930’s, The Mountaineers from Seattle authored the “Ten Essentials” describing ten items that should be carried in the back country. 
“The Ten Essentials” has been modified by different groups over the years.  The following is the list that REI recommends:
  1. Navigation
  2. Sun protection
  3. Insulation (extra clothing)
  4. Illumination
  5. First-aid supplies
  6. Fire starter
  7. Repair kit and tools
  8. Nutrition (extra food)
  9. Hydration (extra water)
  10. Emergency shelter
This is the minimum that one should carry.  It is a starting point.
The Scouts got it right – be prepared.

Helping Search and Rescue Teams

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This summer my local Search and Rescue team has been really busy and is on track to go over 120 search missions this year. 

It’s 4:00 in the afternoon and weather conditions are worsening.  It has been a long day that started well before first light.  As darkness approaches you recognize that the hunt is over and you have no idea where you are, really are.  You have your pack with the right gear and extra food.  So, what are your options and how can you and help the Search and Rescue team.?

Search and Rescue teams are dedicated volunteers and professionals found in each county and province across North America.  They spend hours in training, certifications, and on missions looking for the lost and injured.

Helping the searchers begins at home well before the trip or hunt.   In Hunter Education, students are taught to always let a responsible person know where you are going and when you are expected to return.  If you don’t return, they are to call 911.  But there is more to it than that.  I suggest that your fill out a Trip Plan (visit the Link page at for the plan) just as a pilot would fill out a flight plan.  This plan gives the searchers more to go on; details are important to the searchers.  A vague statement of “he said he’d be hunting off the 400 road by Ball Butte” doesn’t help much.  Your trip plan should cover a lot more information such as the coordinates of your start point and camp, license plate numbers of your vehicle, a comment regarding any medical issues and the names of your partners in the wilderness.  Attach a map of your hunt area to the Trip Plan too.

Leave a copy of your Trip Plan with a responsible person, your family, a copy in camp, a copy with your partner’s family.  Be generous.

I’d like to share a few thoughts about that responsible person.  Discuss exactly what needs to be done.  The responsible person should clearly understand what your expectations are.  For example, if you don’t return on time, this person knows to call 911 right then.  They aren’t calling others asking for advice.  The search will begin only after 911 is called; wasting valuable time doesn’t help anyone.  As R. Lee Emory would say, this is not the time for a “namby-pamby” helper.

So, what can be done to help the Search and Rescue team? 

·        The first thing to do is STOP right where you are.  Just “park it.”  Searchers spend too much time locating wanderers.  They spend less time finding those that stay in place.

·        Try calling 911.  Call 911 before calling your responsible person and family.  Conserve your cell phone’s battery.  Use your emergency beacon or SPOT locator.

·        Think about your situation and observe your surroundings.  Can you make your situation better for the Search and Rescue team to find you?

·        Plan what you are going to do for the next hour, the next four hours and through the remainder of the night.

·        Establish your emergency camp.  Get your emergency shelter ready. 

·        Maintaining your body’s core temperature of 98.6 is now your primary job.  A warming fire goes a long way towards improving your situation and is a signal to the searchers.  Gather as much wood as you can in the remaining day light.

·        Manage your mind (that’s easy to say.)  Remain in control of your emotions and actions.  If you are with a small group that is lost, work as a team and share the load, resources and friendship.

·        Remember to stay where you are.  Wandering at night, navigating in the dark is a fool’s journey.  At night we have lost our visual clues and reference points. 

·        Stay hydrated.

        Use a whistle.

Of course, there are other actions you can take.  These are but just a few recommendations.

There are two references that I would suggest you consider:

·        Surviving a Wilderness Emergency, Peter Kummerfeldt, Outdoor Safe Press, 2006

·        Deep Survival, Laurence Gonzales, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2004

The first book by Kummerfeldt is an excellent primer on your road to learning about surviving a wilderness emergency.  Gonzales’ book is a fascinating read on who survives while others don’t. 

GPS Batery Power

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A frequent question that I get is how long do batteries last?  What can be counted on for GPS battery power.

From my experience the answer is about 12 hours when used continuously.

I have noticed that the “battery power meter” provides OK information.  It seems that four or five power bars last reasonable well initially.  But after the receiver has been on for most of the day, I have noticed that the GPS battery power goes from three bars to two and then one quite quickly.

I keep my GPS powered on all the time.  I like to keep and evaluate the track data.  For example, when I am in the field hunting I discard the batteries at the end of the day, replace with new one, and calibrate the compass.

I particularly like the Duracell and COSTCO batteries.

For short duration hikes I will use the chargeable ENLOOP batteries.  I bought my set at COSTCO. 

GPS Tune-up

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Hunters, this is a great time to tune-up and practice with a GPS receiver.  There are several things the one can do before leaving home.   Here are a few recommendations to consider.


  • Dump those old AA batteries, put in new ones.  If you leave your GPS on all day in the
    Garmin Image

     field expect to change the batteries nightly.  Consider using lithium AA’s, they last longer and work better in cold temperatures. 

  • “Match the map” with the receiver’s navigation selection options. Specifically, match the coordinate system (e.g., UTM or Latitude/Longitude) and map datum that are found on the map.  Consider shifting the receiver’s compass to degrees true.  Further, let’s have everyone in a hiking or hunting group use the same settings too; let’s all be on the same page.

  •  Keep you navigation simple.  It’s easier to work with a handful of waypoints rather than list of 300.  Dump the Junk – Delete the old waypoints, the ones you will never use again.  Log important waypoints (e.g., that lake side camp site) on your PC or in a notebook.  Visit or for a place to store waypoints.

  • Install maps on your GPS receiver.  Maps on the receiver are a natural complement to your paper field map.   Quality maps are available from and (free).

  • Adjust your map pages’ zoom setting to see what works best.  For general trail hiking I  keep my zoom setting at 800 feet.  This setting allows me to view trails, water sources, roads and elevation contours.

  • Visit the manufacture’s web site to see if there are any firmware updates.  I do this every couple of months.

  • When batteries are replaced calibrate the electronic compass.


  • Verify that you are receiving enough satellite signals.  Check this on the satellite status screen.  Four satellites are the minimum.  Give older receivers the time to collect satellite data; don’t rush the navigation process.

  • Give key waypoints names.  When marking a waypoint enter names like “camp” and “truck.”  It’s easier and more meaningful to find “truck” in the list of waypoints than is waypoint 542; or was it 245.  

·        After marking a waypoint, verify that it has been saved to the receiver’s memory by checking either the map page or in the waypoint file (select “where to” or “find.”)  If the waypoint is on the map or in the list of waypoints, the hiker is ready to go.  If the waypoint is not found, start over.


Outdoor Quest Image

 When it’s time to return to a destination chose “Where To” or “Find” on your keypad or menu.  Select the waypoint from the list provided.  Press the “Page” button and rotate through the many displays to the “Compass” page.  A large red arrow should appear on the face of the compass pointing to the selected waypoint.  When on course to the destination the arrow points to the top center of the receiver.  Practice this specific process at home before heading to the field.

  • Navigation is a perishable skill.  I recommend that two weeks before an outing take the GPS receiver everywhere.  Add waypoints, delete waypoints and find a saved waypoint.  This process develops familiarization with the unit and allows the user to develop confidence with the receiver      and personal ability.

  • Compliment GPS skills with a good review of map and compass fundamentals. Learn to back up electronic position fixing with bearing triangulation.   Worst case, a broken GPS becomes a paperweight for your map while afield.  For more information visit .

·         When on the trail compare GPS position data with a map.  Compare what is presented electronically with what is on the map.

I suggest checking out Lawrence Letham’s book GPS Made Easy from the library.  This book compliments the owner’s manual.  An excellent reference for map and compass use is June Fleming’s Staying Found.

Taking a class can further enhance you GPS knowledge.  Classes are frequently offered through the local community college’s continuing education program or at local retailers such as  REI.

A map and compass always goes with me into the field.  I carry a Silva Ranger compass and get my maps from  (their maps are free.)

Have fun while building on your fundamental navigation skill sets.  Consider setting up a treasure hunt or a geocach for a family get together.  Make it fun, make it simple and explain that these skills could one day make a huge difference if the ever got lost in the woods. 

Finding Direction Without a Co

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Preparation and carrying the ten essentials is vital to any outdoor trip.  Map, compass and GPS make up my navigation kit.  Still, the unplanned happens and the magnetic compass may be broken or left at home.  Knowing a few common practices can make a difference.
How can you determine direction without a compass or when the compass is broken?

There are a few viable techniques that can be used to determine direction.  But first, let’s eliminate two methods that are not practical.

Let’s eliminate the old axiom of moss growing on the north side of a tree.  It is just not reliable.

Secondly, dismiss the concept that deciduous trees (e.g., oaks, maples) develop significantly more vegetative structure on a southern exposure.  Generally, one would expect more branch development and canopy on the southern side because of the amount of sunlight received.  This is getting a lot of attention on the internet.  In the Pacific Northwest the Forestry professors that I have discussed this with tell me not to depend on such an observation.

The following are a few methods that are worth remembering.

Perhaps the most accurate method to determine direction is to use the North Star (Polaris). For the backcountry hiker consider that Polaris is fixed in position over the northern pole.  Unique from other celestial stars and planets, Polaris is very closely aligned to the earth’s axis.  Stars and planets rotate around Polaris.  And like the sun, rotation is from east to west through the sky.  Polaris will be found approximately half way between the northern horizon and straight overhead.  In the northern hemisphere, Polaris can found in our northern sky and is never more 1° from true north – the North Pole.  A clear sky without a lot background glow from the light from a city is essential.  Polaris is not the brightest star in the sky. Using the North Star when it is high above the horizon is a challenge.  

Most of our compass navigation deals with sighting objects fairly close to the horizon.  For example, when orienting the topo map to true north, the map is held between waist and chest high and then observing what lies before us.  In such a situation we scan in front and compare visible terrain features to the map.  Most of the time, the hiker is looking straight out not 45° above the horizon.  When pulling the true north bearing (from Polaris) “down from high in the sky” it takes a bit of practice and patience to align the bearing to the horizon where it can be useful.

I recommend taking your compass with you on a clear night and attempt to find Polaris. 

For more information about Polaris read my post

The Sun provides an excellent means of direction finding too.  The ideal situation is one where the sky is bright and relatively free of clouds. 

The first method is called a “shadow stick compass.” In an open area, clear away forest debris and duff.  Place a stick or trekking pole (extended about three feet – longer is better than shorter) into the ground as deep as possible (see image below.)

Notice the shadow moving out from the trekking pole.  At the furthest point of the shadow, place a marker such as a rock, stick or tent peg in the ground.

Twenty or thirty minutes later, place another marker at the end of the moving shadow. 

The markers shown above were placed over a period of one hour, each thirty minutes apart.  A piece of baling twine (yellow) was laid adjacent to the markers to provide reference.  The line of markers runs east west.

To find north, I simply put the toes of my boots next to the markers with my body perpendicular to the yellow line made by the twine.  Facing away from the trekking pole, north is straight in front of me. 

A traditional analog watch (one with an hour and minute hands) can be used to locate north.  Again, a bright sunny day is ideal.

The following is quoted from the US Army field manual FM 21-76 (page 20.)

“An ordinary watch can be used to determine the approximate true north.  In the North Temperate Zone only, the hour hand is pointed toward the sun.  A north-south line can be found midway between the hour and 12 o’clock.  (See image below.)  This applies to standard time; on daylight saving time, the north-south line is found midway between the hour hand and 1 o’clock.  If there is any doubt as to which end of the line is north, remember that the sun is in the eastern part of the sky before noon and in the western part in the afternoon. On cloudy days place a stick in the center of the watch and hold it so that the shadow of the stick falls along the hour hand.  One-half of the distance between the shadow and 12 o’clock is north.”

Figure 1:  Image from Army FM 21-76

A topographic map balances the methods discussed above.  Once north is determined (discussed above) orient the map to north and compare terrain features on the map with the actual contours and features on the ground.  Identify topographic handrails such as rivers, trails, and dominant land features (e.g., mountains tops.)  These features will help guide the hiker’s travel during the day.

Such study of a map and its features builds a mental map of the area.  A mental map and terrain association is great step to determine and maintain direction.

Using Polaris and the “stick compass” can, with practice, provide good direction information.  In my opinion, using a watch to determine direction provides a trend of direction at best.  Trend of direction would be where the hiker is heading in a generally northerly direction rather than a specific bearing.

There are a few more techniques available but these three are easily remembered and don’t require more gear.  It is a fine place to start.

For more information consider:

1.    US Army Field Manual – FM 21-76

2.    Staying Found by June Fleming

3.    The Natural Navigator  by Tristan Gooley

Surviving a Black-Out

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Surviving a Black-Out is submitted by guest contributor Lee.  I don’t scan the survival sites often but I think Lee’s post offers some great common sense.


Though it is easy to go through life without planning to experience a Black-Out, chances are you will endure a black-out in your lifetime. Depending on where you live, black-outs might be a seasonal occurrence. Black-outs happen for a variety of reasons. However, when a blackout happens, you’ll lose power and the ability to operate as normal. When the power goes out, this shuts down access to fresh food, the ability to cook, see, use electronics and much more. Experiencing this type of inconvenience can be debilitating if it lasts for a long time. However, the crisis doesn’t need to be unbearable if you prepare an emergency survival/preparedness kit. If you’re experiencing a blackout, there are a few resources you need to keep in your possession.


Sources of Light 

Even though the sun is the main source of light for the Earth, inside of buildings, people rely on electricity to power on the lights. In those eco-friendly cases, people use solar energy. However, it is important to have alternatives during a blackout. Flashlights are excellent to keep stored along with lots of batteries. Compared to flashlights, certain brands of candles are cheaper light sources as well. They’re not as easy to manipulate and maneuver as flashlights. Just make sure to keep a bunch of matches on hand to light the candles. If your home has a fireplace and a chimney, these are good resources to use during a blackout to circulate heat.


Sources of Nourishment 

In order to survive, the body needs to stay nourished. The best way to do this is through food and water. Some emergency preparedness guides offer great advice regarding how much water to store. Keep one gallon per person for each day of a blackout. This should be enough water for a person to stay hydrated and stay clean. In terms of food, it is possible to eat and get nourished during a blackout. Make sure to keep lots of canned food on hand. Keep an eye out for the expiration date of the canned foods as well. Be sure to discard any expired foods. Canned foods like fruit, vegetables, beans and meats can work well. Don’t forget to keep a manual can opener stocked. To heat foods, use aluminum trays with sternos and keep foods warm for hours. There are plenty of items that will stay good on the shelf such as powdered milk and dry cereals. Dried beans and lentils are easy to soak for a period of time and then enjoy. Storing dehydrated foods is a fairly easy and convenient process. Dehydrated foods are easier to keep safe from insect contamination than dried foods. You can dehydrate foods like mushrooms and fruit. Keep them stored in sterile, glass jars. Put the lids on tight and you’ve got an array of food to enjoy during a blackout.

Other Helpful Resources 

Even though the electricity might be out, there are still ways to remain connected to the outside world. Keep a battery-operated radio on hand to connect to a radio signal with emergency information, local updates and weather forecasts.

A blackout has the potential to last overnight or for a couple of days. If you find yourself in this predicament, make sure to store a few pillows and sleeping bags in plastic or garbage bags. They’re more likely to stay dry this way. If possible, pack an air mattress that doesn’t rely on electricity for inflation. These resources will make will make the overnight experience a lot more comfortable.

With decreased lighting, the chances increase for someone to accidentally trip or miss their step somewhere. If so, make sure to have a first-aid kit on hand. Injuries notoriously happen in emergency situations. Keeping the proper medical supplies on hand will ease the angst involving an injury

Overall, emergency situations like blackouts are scary. Though they’re never ideal, it is ideal to make the most of the situation by staying prepared. As you go to the grocery store for weekly groceries, purchase an extra few cans of food or a gallon of water. Before long, your entire emergency preparedness kit will be complete.


Changing GPS Coordinates

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Coordinates are the numerical values used to identify a hiker’s location in the field or on a map.  The most common are Latitude and longitude.

From the factory, GPS receivers are set are set to the format of: 

      o  Degrees         Minutes. Minutes  (example: 150° 36.30’)

There are many other formats that GPS receivers can be adjusted to.

The two most important GPS Coordinate formats in the USA are:

      o  Degrees         Minutes          Seconds
            This is common on US Geologic Survey topographic and commercial maps. (Example: 150° 36’ 30”)

Universal Transverse Mercator (UTM)
            A metric based grid system that is simple to use. Visit  UTM Grid for the hiker for more information.

Who cares?

Let’s use the example of a backcountry hiker using a hiking guide book that has a short chapter on a route plan to “Spectacular Lake.”  The guide books map representation is a little crude but has UTM GPS Coordinates for the trail head, parking lot and final destination.

To take advantage of those UTM GPS Coordinates the hiker must >power the receiver>go to the setupoption (below):

From setup scroll/rocker down to and select position format.  

Note that it is selected to UTM UPS.  That is what the hiker is looking for.

Select the position format icon and explore all the GPS Coordinate formats that are available (there are quite a few.)


Snake Safety

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My latest issue of Field and Stream arrived the other day.  On page 14 there is a short article about a fellow who is bitten by a timber rattle snake in Mississippi. His self aid procedures sounded good which were primarily keep calm and get to the local emergency room.

12 vials of anti-venom later he probably thought he was bitten again when the hospital bill rolled in with a charge of $420,000.00.  Though not mentioned, this fellow must have had a pretty lengthy stay in the hospital.

Check out my earlier post on Snakes .  Lots of good info on what to do when hiking in snake country.

If you hike with your pup take special precautions.  For example, I live in the high desert and right now I won’t let my labs romp through the green foliage near the river and I keep them on a leash.

GPS Waypoints – Dump the Junk

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 Managing Your GPS Waypoints

Robin is one happy GPS user.  He has owned his Garmin GPS 60 for two years.  The Waypoint file is full of entries.  He had recorded hunting trips, camping expeditions with the kids, a few geocaches, and of course the favorite fishing spot.  His GPS receiver will hold 500 Waypoints and he has over 350 saved.  What a collection of data.  But is Robin really managing his Waypoints effectively?


 Lots of things can happen to a GPS Waypoint or data file.  You can put data in. You can take data out.  You can lose it (the GPS breaks or the wrong button entry is selected.)  But be careful, far worse, too much data can make your navigation difficult.

 In my land navigation class I stress keeping your navigation simple.  Frequent and simple Waypoint management is essential to GPS use.  When it’s time to return to the truck, it should be obvious what GPS Waypoint to select. 

 Dump the junk before the start of a trip.  As you leave the trail head your GPS should have only necessary data saved on your GPS.  That Waypoint for the fishing hole is important but needs to be saved elsewhere.

 Start by deleting Waypoints that really are not needed.  Free those data bites to the atmosphere.

 To save your “got to have, must save Waypoints:” 

             1.            Use Garmin’s “Trip and Waypoint Manager.”  It probably came with your GPS.  It can also be purchased from Garmin for about $30.00;  Down load those Waypoints to your PC.

 2.            If you don’t have the Garmin program, consider “Easy GPS.”  It is free and available at

            3.            Log the important data in a notebook.

 Electronic storage allows you to save Waypoints and track data (that bread crumb trail on your map screen.)  Further, you can upload old Waypoints another day for a trip to that special fishing spot.  This data can also be down loaded into your friends GPS too.  It can also be uploaded to your new GPS in the future.

 Remember though; when you receive or transfer GPS Waypoint data always verify that you have the compatible map datum and coordinate system set on your receiver.

 Finally, give important Waypoints a name.  It’s easier to remember a Waypoint named “CAMP” instead of 21 (or was it 25.)

 Now, when Robin is ready to return to the trail head he’ll see 30 are saved instead of 350.  His navigation is a bit simpler and should he have to navigate under stress due to weather or injury it will make more sense and eliminate mistakes.

Buying A Used GPS Receiver

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Used receivers in thrift stores, estate sales and auctions are generally overpriced and outdated. 

I have seen many used or re manufactured receivers fail during classes that I teach.

If the hiker is in need of a back-up receiver here is what I would suggest:

·       Keep an eye on the blog  The blogger keeps an up to date site on what is happening in the world of GPS receivers.

·      Identify what models are of interest and then visit Ebay, Amazon and to get a price baseline.

·      Get a relatively current model.  For example, Garmin models such as the 60 or eTrek series should have the following nomenclature next to the model name such as H, or HCx (Garmin GPSmap60CX.)

·      A receiver is in reality a hi-tech piece of equipment.  If the viewing screen is badly scratched or the case is cracked or showing signs of rough wear walk away from it.

·     Never buy a receiver without a demonstration.  Take some AA batteries with you when you go shopping.

·     The receiver should track satellites within a few minutes of being turned on and should be locked on, ready to navigate in 4-6 minutes (ball park estimate.)

·      Determine how much mapping capability it has.  For example, my old Garmin GPSmap60 receiver had the capability to store 100 mega bites of data which approximated to about half of the state of Oregon.  Receivers with micro SD cards offer more capability.

·       Retain all paper work and warranty info supporting re-manufactured product.

Smartphone Navigation Apps

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It’s common in my navigation classes to be asked – what is better, a standalone GPS

receiver (such as a Garmin 64) or smartphone navigation apps?

Philip Werner’s blog has a fine post that takes a look at what hikers are using on the trail for backcountry navigation. His post offers a survey of what is most common in the hiking community.

I was gratified to see that a large majority use a traditional paper map and compass.

Smartphone navigation App use is large and from my perspective getting larger.

Thoughtfully, Mr. Werner provides a nice listing of popular smartphone navigation app.

Personally, I’ll stick with my waterproof and reliable Garmin 64s.

Considerations When Buying a GPS –

Navigation Book to Read

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Recently, one of my students showed me a book by Greg Davenport. This was a new one for me.   Davenport’s book Advanced Outdoor Navigation is a great read.

This book is very detailed and is an excellent resource for the backcountry navigator.  I found a copy on Amazon.  My copy was printed in 2006.  The GPS section needs to be brought up to date.  

I wish it was still in print as I’d use it as the required reading material in my next class.

The Best Ways to Cut Weight for a Backpacking Trip

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This post was written by guest author Rhett.
Backpacking can be a great way to experience the beauty of nature and get away from the

chaos of everyday life. However, if you find yourself weighted down with a pack full of heavy equipment, you may have a hard time enjoying the journey. You will find that you can still carry everything you need down to your camo wallet and be lightweight enough to hike with ease. Here are 4 practical ways to cut weight for your next backpacking trip.

What you wear while you hike can make a big difference in the overall weight you are carrying. The most important place to cut weight with your clothing is your hiking boots. Heavy boots will weigh you down, creating greater fatigue in your knees and legs with every step.
Look for comfortable, durable, lightweight hiking boots. Try them on before purchasing to be sure they fit your feet well. If you have to purchase boots online, check the weight specs so you can tell if the boots you are ordering are truly lightweight.
Pants, shirts, and socks should also be lightweight. Clothing made of breathable, synthetic materials can provide extra comfort as they often wick moisture away from your body. Try to avoid cotton as it is bulky, relatively heavy, and absorbs sweat. While these pieces of clothing are not going to make as big of a difference as your hiking boots, cutting their bulk and weight will still make hiking easier.
The heaviest piece of equipment you will have is your tent. You can cut weight here by purchasing a lightweight tent or if you can’t purchase a new tent, check the weather before you leave. If there is no chance of rain, you may be able to leave the rain fly at home. However, you do risk getting caught in an unexpected storm.
Another possibility is to bring a ground cover and/or tarp to create a shelter that allows you to sleep under the stars. In this case, you lose the weight of tent poles, rain fly, and ground cover. Be sure to practice making your shelter before you go so that you are prepared to set it up.
Food makes up another significant portion of the weight that you carry. Replace your food with freeze dried meals because they are lightweight and easy to prepare. These meals have zero moisture, which means you are carrying only the essential nutrients. As long as you have access to enough water on the trip, you will have all the food that you need. Along with your food, a small, simple way to cut weight is to use plastic eating utensils. A plastic fork, spoon, knife, and plate eliminate the extra weight of silverware.
Use Items for Multiple Purposes
You can cut weight without having to invest in more lightweight gear by rethinking what you are already taking with you. For example, instead of packing a pillow, stuff your extra pants and shirt inside your coat or sweatshirt and use it as a pillow. Instead of packing pajamas, either sleep in your clean clothes and wear them the next day or sleep in your dirty clothes and put on your clean clothes in the morning.
Backpack with the Essentials
As you take the time to go through your backpacking equipment and clothing, you will start to find the items that can be purchased in a lightweight or smaller version. After going through those items, creative thinking will help you to reach the pack weight that you want. Once you’ve gone lightweight, you’ll be able to enjoy your trip more fully.

Outdoor enthusiast, turned blogger Rhett Davis brings his passion for all things outdoors into everything he writes. Rhett’s perfect Saturday is a morning on the lake, afternoon with the BBQ and an evening with family.

Improving GPS Accuracy

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There are only a few things the hiker can do to improve GPS accuracy.
The first step is to go to the Satellite Information page.  Ideally at least 4 of the green icons will be displayed.  The green icons represent satellites being tracked.  It is critical to have no less than 4 satellites for GPS accuracy. 

Next, make sure that the receiver is not in the DEMO mode.  In DEMO mode no satellites will be tracked.  To regain GPS accuracy go to the main menu>select SETUP>select SYSTEM>select GPS; see below.
Once the GPS receiver is correctly set up the hiker will begin to track satellites almost immediately.
To further improve GPS accuracy insure the Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS) option is enabled.  WAAS will improve accuracy to +/- 3 meters.  WAAS can be enabled from the same screen that DEMO was removed.  Notice the letter D on the satellite information page indicating signal reception; see the image below.

If the WAAS correction can’t be received the GPS will be accurate to +/- 15 meters.

More informaition relating to GPS Accuracy.

GPS Accuracy

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Are you comfortable with the accuracy of your GPS receiver?  
The package says that your Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver is accurate to +/- 15 meters and some advertise +/- 3 meters.  Just what does that mean to you?
Accuracy depends on several things, most of which are beyond your control.  For example, it is reasonable to expect a new GPS with the latest antenna, circuitry, processor capability and memory technology will perform better than one made in 2005.  The number of satellites signals a receiver acquires helps too; you’ll need at least four.
The graphic below tells an interesting story.  Through the center of the topographic map, marked with dashed lines is the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) in Oregon’s Cascades mountain range.  Next to the trail is my track log (in red) downloaded from my GPS to my Terrain Navigator software.  The track log is my electronic path calculated by the receiver.

I walked on the PCT the entire time.

  My GPS receiver was in a holster attached to the shoulder straps of my backpack.  The receiver’s antenna was exposed but only received data from my front and straight up, my chest blocked signals from behind my back.

As the green of the map indicates I was in a forested area. Tree canopy was moderately thick and may have interfered with signal reception.

Further, I was on the move the entire time, stopping only occasionally.

Obviously, there is a distinct difference between the map and the track log. 

To improve the accuracy of my track information I could do three things.  First, I would have removed the receiver from the holster.  Second, I could have moved into an area clear of forest canopy. Third, I would give the GPS time to develop good satellite tracking information.


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In a previous post I discussed the concept of terrain association.  Terrain association is the process of visually confirming a map to land features.

A subset of terrain association is the use of handrails.  Handrails are linear features found on a map and visually correlated to observed land features.  As in a building, a stairway’s handrail provides direction for a walkers travel down to another level.

Examples of handrails include roads, rivers, trails and railroad beds.  Handrails can be particularly useful when they run parallel to ones’ direction of travel.

Highway 126 and Cache Creek are distinct linear features that could serve as a handrail.

In the map above notice that the red direction of travel line parallels Highway 126. 

In this example Highway 126 could also be a backstop to alert the hiker that crossing the roadway would take them in the wrong direction.

Be alert for a handrail’s change of direction.  There may be prominent land features that will alert the backcountry traveler to such a change.  A butte or building might be adjacent or near to a change in direction. 

10 Essential Food Items Necessary for Survival

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Post by Lee Flynn


If there were ever an emergency, then the first 10 items anyone would want in bulk would be the 10 items below in the list. They have been selected carefully for a number of reasons. They’re easy to store, and many of them are essential nutritionally. Here are 10 foods absolutely necessary for an emergency food plan.


25 Pounds of a Variety of Rice


Rice is a must have in, and it should be at the top of the list for anyone starting in food storage planning. 25 pounds is a lot of rice, but it may be necessary. Rice is nutritious and filling, and once the plan begins to expand, then other items can be added to the inventory to make the rice more appetizing. It is recommended to get a combination of white and brown rice. This is because of the health benefits of brown rice and the longer shelf life of white rice. It is a staple to have in the grain group, especially since it is important to still cover the four food groups.

At Least 25 Cans of Vegetables


Do not let taste and preference be the guide hand when selecting vegetables. There needs to be a mix of different kinds vegetables in this plan for a very good reason, which is nutrition. Certain vegetables offer certain important vitamins, nutrients and antioxidants. Mix this selection up with greens, carrots, canned potatoes and anything else available different from the rest.


25 Cans Minimum of Various Fruit


Canned fruit usually comes in a sweet syrup, and it tastes pretty good too. Aside from the taste, the selection of fruit should be varied like the vegetables for the same reason. Get a variety to cover as many different vitamins and nutrients as possible, and the sugar in fruit is also good fuel for the body. The idea behind the variety of fruit and vegetables is stave off any nutritional deficiencies.

Five Pounds of Oats


Oatmeal is packed with nutrition and fiber. Fiber is extremely good for the human body. Besides keeping us regular, it slows down the absorption of glucose in the flood, and it will help prevent crashing, and it’s good for people with diabetes or during pregnancy  according to Healthline which is an equally important thing to consider when preparing for emergencies even if you are planning for newborn adoption. It is also very filling in small amounts.


25 Cans of Various Meat


All kinds of meat come available in a can like shrimp, salmon, clams, tuna, chicken, beef stew and even those little Vienna sausages and Spam. Again, try and go for a variety, but the main reason for meat on the shopping list is protein. Protein is essential to live, and it repairs cells and builds muscle. Any kind of injuries sustained by someone will need protein to heal.

Five Pounds of Powdered Milk


Milk is on the list for a couple of reasons, and it also completes the food groups. Milk is full of nutrients and protein, and it is also a great source of Vitamin D, which will be vital in case having to stay out of the sun for awhile is necessary. It can also be added to oatmeal and other grains.


Three Large Jars Powdered Fruit Drink Mixes Fortified With Vitamin C


This will add some flavor to an unfortunate situation, and the Vitamin C fortification helps boost the immune system, and depending on how long the food plan is necessary, Vitamin C is something no one wants to be deficient in. DermNet NZ warns a Vitamin C deficiency could result in the old affliction of scurvy.

Five Pounds of Salt


Salt is a must when making a food prepping list. It is perfect for enhancing flavor, preserving food and it prevents the sodium deficiency of Hyponatremia, which has some very nasty symptoms. Salt is a necessary part of the human diet.

Five Pounds of Dried Pasta


This is filling, and it is a comfort food. A comfort food is something to be cherished if an emergency ever occurs.

Five Large Jars or Cans of Pasta Sauce


There is no scientific explanation for this item, but it does go well with the pasta, and it is an easy way to make a filling meal.


The basic food groups have been taken care of, and everything has a large, reasonable amount to be purchased and stored. This list is put together with nutritional deficiencies in mind. It was also meant to balance nutrition with taste and comfort. It is never too late to prepare for an emergency.

Lee Flynn is a freelance writer. Through small local workshops and articles, Lee trains and teaches others on home preparation, healthy living, food storage techniques, and self reliance.

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Hemlock – A Killer In The Backcountry

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This is an old post about an old menace to folks in the backcountry.   Hemlock is deadly.

Hemlock is a deadly invasive plant species that grows just about everywhere in the USA.

Noxious weeds are a real problem in Oregon.

My county has an aggressive program to get rid of these invasive weeds.

The image to the left is from a flyer that identifies  the many weeds found in my region.

Hemlock is indeed a killer.

These plants are found along waterways and irrigation canals.

The mature poison hemlock – 

“….is a biennial that grows 6 to 8 feet tall.  Stems are erect, stout and purple spotted at all stages.  Leaves on mature pants, as well as seedling plants, are fern-like in appearance.  All plant parts are poisonous including the large white taproot.  Humans ave been poisoned by mistaking the plant for parsley.”  

Note that the quote states that all plant parts are poisonous.  I’ve talked to several ranchers who thought that only the taproot was dangerous.

Baseline Navigation

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Early in the morning the hunter hiked north from camp to Mahogany Butte.  With an hour of light left it was time to return.  He had his day pack with map and compass and he knew how to use them.  But he didn’t have a GPS.  The wooded terrain around him didn’t lend itself to triangulation with a compass.  So what was he to do?  If he was paying attention to his navigation before leaving camp at dawn he was all set.   All he needed to do was to return to the base line.

Returning to a baseline is a pretty straight forward concept.  The idea is that you leave camp from a known location and strike out in a specific direction such as North, or 000°.  When it is time to return aim to the left or right of camp (like 165°T), hit the logging road camp is on and turn right.  That is the concept but there is a bit more to it.

Let’s go over the tools you need and the process of how it works in more detail.
My recommendation is to first purchase a reliable compass that can be adjusted for declination. 
 A solid compass made by Suunto, Brunton (the 8010G) and Silva (the Ranger pictured above) are great choices.  Learn how to adjust the compass for the declination or your location.  (Note: declination is the difference between true north and magnetic north.  Declination for your area can be found at )   Note that some of the inexpensive compasses will indicate that it has declination marking/grid on the packaging.  You want a compass that can be mechanically adjusted.
If the sales clerks eyes glaze over you are in the wrong store.

The essence of back country navigation is to keep it simple.  If you are new to compass navigation, having a compass that can be adjusted keeps things simple.  Though the red magnetic needle still points to magnetic north, the rotating dial (that has been adjusted) now provides information in degrees true.  A compass that is aligned to degrees true now works well with the traditional topographic map that is oriented to degrees true as well.  Take a look at June Fleming’s book Staying Found or visit

The next tool is your map.  USGS topographic maps and National Geographic maps of the major national parks are great examples of what works well in the backcountry.  Let’s leave the Gazetteer or AAA roadmap at home.  I’ll carry a copy of the Forest Service or BLM map of the area too.

On the map, locate what will be the base line.  A baseline can be a road, river or trail.  Key to the selection is that you want a baseline of sufficient length.  It must also be obvious when you approach the baseline; it needs to be distinct.

For example, in the case of the hunter mentioned above, he would have potentially tragic consequences if he over shot his base line and just kept on walking.

So let’s take a look at a map and develop a baseline.

The red arrows on the map (to the left) point to a road.  This road travels in a general direction of Northwest – Southeast.  Further, the road travels for many miles in either direction.
Think of the baseline as a geographic boundary.  The baseline is designed to keep you within a specific area.

The map directly above is of the same location but it has been zoomed in for clarity.
Notice the location of camp to the east of the baseline; the road.

Also notice that the planned destination has been added.  The destination is to the Northeast of camp.  Roughly the destination bears 070°T (degrees true) from Camp.
The intent now is to travel from Camp to Destination.

Remember that the compass must be adjusted for declination.  In this location the declination is 16° east (below.)

At this point, adjust the compass such that the adjustable outer dial is rotated to 070°T (T for degrees true) and is aligned with the direction of travel arrow or index line.  After the dial is adjusted turn your body so that the magnetic needle rotates on top of the red baseplate
needle (engraved into the plastic of the baseplate (below.)

Now proceed towards the destination.  You have the option of looking down range in the direction of “Destination” or monitoring the compass the entire length of the hike; that is a bit tedious.

Note that in a hike such as this you are going to the general location of the area you want to be in.  If you decide to go to a specific, defined location you must triangulate to fix your position, use pace count or use a GPS.

Observe how the topographic contour lines (brown lines) in the center of the image are far apart which means that the land is somewhat flat.  The lines in the bottom left of the image begin to merge indicating a hill.

It is the return hike to camp that will take advantage of the baseline.

Rather than trying to go directly back to camp offset the direction of travel to the south. Roughly one will travel in a direction of 230°T.

The key point is that the hiker will knowingly head south of camp to intersect the baseline.
Of course the option of going north of camp on a direction of 280°T could be considered too.
Upon arriving at the baseline turn right and follow the road back to camp.
That’s it.
Remember the cautions mentioned earlier:

  1. The baseline must be of sufficient length.
  2. The baseline must be obvious when you reach it.  If you are in an area of multiple trails or logging road think carefully if your choice is going to work for you.


Compass Accuracy

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Many things can affect the operation of a compass.

 Keep ferrous objects away from the compass body. 

I went to the U.S. Army’s manual on Map Reading and Land Navigation verify  this issue.

The manual stated:

“Metal objects and electrical sources can affect the performance of a compass.  However, nonmagnetic metals and alloys do not affect compasses readings.  The following separations distances are suggested to ensure proper functions of a compass:

          High-tension power lines …………………………………..55 meters
          Field gun, truck or tank………………………………………18 meters
          Telegraph or telephone wires and barbed wires …..10 meters
          Rifle ………………………………………………………………..1/2 meter”

I would offer that a compass should be protected from some electronic/electric equipment such as flash lights and GPS receivers.


Evaluating Back-Up Magnetic Compasses

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Frequently in my backcountry land navigation class, I am asked about the need to carry a back-up compass.  Generally students are interested in a light weight model that is low in cost, small in size, and would “fill in” as needed. 

I purposefully evaluated several models many consider to be back-up options.  When choosing a back-up magnetic compass, the hiker must ask himself “What are my priorities?  Is it accuracy? Reliability?  Cost?  Size and weight?”

Different models bring different values to the outdoorsman.   If the primary compass got crushed, misplaced, or stopped working what model would serve as a back-up to get out of the woods safely?  Generally a back-up compass isn’t as capable as the primary.  People want to cut back on weight and expense.

For this evaluation, I selected five commonly used compass models.  They are: the Brunton 9020G, a wrist watch compass “The Navigator” (sold by Country Comm), the Silva Type 3, the Silva Type 7, and a ball compass by Outdoor Product (not Outdoor Research.)

 I will compare the five selected back-up units to the highly regarded Silva Ranger (CL 515) and Brunton 8010G base plate compasses to establish a bearing standard. The Silva ranger and 8010G models are oriented to magnetic north as shown below:

Topo Maps – Bench Marks

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When looking at a US Geologic Survey (USGS) map the hiker will find benchmark symbols sprinkled across the topo.  Benchmark and the many other symbols provide the details of a map.  Symbols represent features such as mines, bridges, dams and many more items.  To see a complete look at symbols visit the USGS site for more information.

Figure <!–[if supportFields]> SEQ Figure * ARABIC <![endif]–>1<!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–> Symbol examples from the USGS Topo Map Symbols web page.

Figure <!–[if supportFields]> SEQ Figure * ARABIC <![endif]–>2<!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–>  Benchmarks on a topographic map.
A benchmark is control point on the map.  Control points are positions of accurate measurement in terms of elevation and position (latitude and longitude.)  Benchmarks are also known informally as “survey markers.”  Originally, these markers were used in land surveying and by civil engineers for construction purposes.  Benchmarks help to accurately determine location.

From’sfrequently asked questions: 

“A benchmark, abbreviated “BM,” is a location whose elevation and horizontal position has been surveyed as accurately as possible. Benchmarks are designed for use as reference points, and are usually marked by small brass plates.”

Occasionally a hiker will find a benchmark plate in the backcountry.  The image below is an example of the brass plate.  These plates should not be tampered with and are not souvenirs to be taken home.

Figure <!–[if supportFields]> SEQ Figure * ARABIC <![endif]–>3<!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–>  Brass benchmark found in the backcountry.

Note the elevation data found in the center of the plate.  Importantly, elevation is measured in feet above sea level and not in relation to the adjacent topography. reports that over 740,000 benchmarks are dispersed around the United States.

Though elevation data is provided on the map, coordinate information (e.g., latitude and longitude, UTM) is not.  It’s is up to the hiker to interpolate and determine the information through the use of a map tool.

Remember that the coordinate data provided on a topographic map is in degrees, minutes and seconds (GPS menu settings format: dd mm ss.s) while a new GPS is set at the factory to degrees minutes.minutes (GPS menu settings format: dd mm.m.)

Finding a benchmark can confirm your position on the map. 

To improve you GPS skill level try “Benchmarking,” an activity similar to geocaching.  The objective is to find the brass plates in the field.  For more information visit Geocach.

The Ten Essentials

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On a warm afternoon in July, a family leaves a trail head with the goal of summiting the SouthSisterMountainin Central Oregon.  It was a rough hike as they took a path not frequently traveled.  By evening it became obvious that this group would not make it to the summit and the glacier they were attempting to cross was icing up; it just wasn’t safe to press on.  911 was called and a local SAR team reached them after midnight.  The temperature on the glacier was quickly dropping below 40° (F) and the hikers were getting cold.
When the SAR team reached them, they found that the group had some food and water but no other gear.  The hikers’ clothing selection was questionable too.
What is the right stuff to carry in the outdoors?  What is the minimum?  What should you consider before hitting the trail?
A climbing group in the 1930s, The Mountaineers from Seattle authored the “Ten Essentials” describing ten items that should be carried in the back country. 
“The Ten Essentials” has been modified by different groups over the years.  The following is the list that REI recommends:
  1. Navigation
  2. Sun protection
  3. Insulation (extra clothing)
  4. Illumination
  5. First-aid supplies
  6. Fire starter
  7. Repair kit and tools
  8. Nutrition (extra food)
  9. Hydration (extra water)
  10. Emergency shelter
This is the minimum that one should carry.  It is a starting point.
For a more detailed look at what should go into your survival kit take a look at “Build the Perfect Survival Kit” by John D. McCann.  This book evaluates equipment and provides suggestions for kit components based on your outdoor needs.  For example, he has check lists for the day hiker and expands that to the deep woods trekker or SAR team member.



Now that you have the gear, what should you consider as you head in to the back country?
I was searching the internet last year looking for other suggestions on wilderness travel planning.  I came across a web site hosted in Norway.  I read that after a series of accidents and 18 deaths on Easter 1967, the Norwegian Red Cross and Norwegian Mountain Touring authored what is known as the Norwegian Mountain Code.  (To find this information in detail, Google search on “the Norwegian Mountain Code.”)
The basic elements of the code are (and I am quoting from the site):
  1. Be prepared –Be sufficiently experienced, fit and equipped for your intended trip.

  2. Leave word of your route – Tell a responsible person your travel plan. (See the recommended Hikers Trip Plan at    click on links.”)

  3. Be weather-wise – An old adage advises that you should always be alert to forecasts of bad weather, yet not rely completely on forecasts of good weather.

  4. Be equipped for bad weather and frost. – Always take a rucksack and proper mountain gear. Put on more clothing if you see approaching bad weather or if the temperature drops.

  5. Learn from the locals.

  6. Use a map and compass.  Take a GPS too.

  7. Do not go solo. – If you venture out alone, there is nobody to give you first aid or notify a rescue service in an emergency.

  8. Turn back in time – sensible retreat is no disgrace. – If conditions deteriorate so much that you doubt you can attain your goal, turn around and return.

  9. Conserve energy and build a snow shelter if necessary.. 

The Scouts got it right – be prepared.

Be Sure That You are Ready for a Snow Storm

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Today’s post is by a new guest writer – Lee.  He has made some very valid points that the East coast is experiencing once again.  Please comment to let Lee know what you think.

Although spring has officially arrived, it is important to still be prepared for snow storms. Snow storms frequently occur in the late spring months, and if you are not prepared for them, you could find yourself trying to survive a drastic situation without the necessary supplies. As with many natural disasters, preparation is the key to survival. Therefore, if you have the items listed below, your chances of survival are greatly increased.


Working Flashlight


As with any natural disaster, one of the first utilities to be affected is electricity. The same is true with snow storms. When a snow storm comes in, the weight of the snow and ice will damage power lines, thus causing power outages. However, if you have a working flashlight, you will still be able to move around in the dark without causing damage to your home or injuring yourself. Additionally, a working flashlight will allow you to move around safely to get other materials that you may need.

First Aid Kit


If there is an accident, it is important to have a first aid kit. Since there may be days before electricity is restored, you need to be able to assist with any medical emergencies. Furthermore, because of the amount of snow that will be at your front door, there may be days before you are able to leave your home. The first aid kit will prevent the small accidents from becoming large emergencies.


Bottled Water


With a snow storm, it is important to have lots of bottled water. Ideally, according to the Red Cross, you should have at least one gallon a day for each person in your home. Because it will be cold during a snowstorm, many people have the false belief that water is not as important since there will not be much sweating. However, water is as important during the cold weather as it is during the hot weather. Without the necessary amount of water each day, you will find yourself becoming dehydrated quickly.

Layered Clothing


As noted earlier, one of the first utilities to be affected by a snowstorm is the electricity. Without electricity, your home will become cold in a matter of time. By having layered clothing, you will be able to keep your body temperature at its normal rate. The best type of clothing will be the type that has thick fleece fabric embedded within it. This type of fabric will hold heat inside much better than other types of clothing. Fortunately, this type of fabric is available in all sizes. In fact, the CDC notes that layered clothing is one of the single most important items needed to survive a snowstorm.


Canned Foods


Just as water is important, canned food is equally as important. Since you will probably be without electricity, you need to make sure that your canned food does not have to be heated. There are many types of canned foods that will be beneficial during this time. There are vegetables, fruits, meats, and whole grains that come in cans. For optimal results with canned food, you need to pay special attention to your food storage techniques. It is important to store your food in places that are dry and can be easily reached. Also, you should store your foods on low shelves as opposed to high shelves. By storing your food on a low shelf, you will reduce your chances of injury by having to climb to higher shelves.


No one wants to have to endure a snow storm. However, if you have to go through one, it is important that you are truly prepared. Preparation will make this time much more manageable for you. By having the items listed above, you will be prepared for a snow storm.


Bear Attack

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In my wilderness survival class, I am frequently asked what kind of gun would be my best defense against a bear attack.  I am asked “is a rifle better than a pistol or what about a shotgun?”  Rarely does anyone ask about bear spray.

Early Saturday morning I was listening to NothwesternOutdoors Radio.  The show’s host, John Kruse interviewed a representative from bear spray manufacturer Counter Assault.

After listening I did a bit of internet research and found some of the statistics brought forward on the radio show.  I focused on a May 2012 article in Outside Magazine by Nick Heil (“Shoot or Spray,  The Best Way To Stop a Charging Bear.”)

Bear spray may be the backcountry traveler’s best option.

Here are a few “take-aways” from Heil’s article:

  • ·       Over the period from 1883 to 2009, there were 269 bear close encounters, bears inflicted injuries in 151 encounters and killed 17 people.
  •         Bear spray was first introduced in 1985.  From 1985 to 2006 there were 83 close bear encounters involving 156 people. Heil reports that “In all the incidents involving spray, there were only three injuries and none of them were fatal…”
  •          Interestingly, an associate professor in Plant and Wildlife Sciences, Tom Smith, was asked to provide guidance on how to be safe in bear county.  “But all the information I could find was based on no data at all or just misguided impressions”

So, what should you do in bear country?

  •          Keep bear spray in a holster readily accessible and out of the backpack.

  •          Get the spray out in front and get ready to activate.  Spray has a limited volume.  Check Counter Assault’s info videos on their web site.

  •       Stay in a group and group up when a bear is seen.

  •         Stand your ground, make noise.

  •          Don’t make eye contact.

Buying A GPS Receiver

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Looking for a GPS?  Here are a few suggestions.
Buying your GPS receiver is a lot like shopping for your a car. You want reliability and simplicity in providing transportation from Point A to Point B. There are many outdoor opportunities that may impact what kind of GPS model suits your specific needs. As a hunter or hiker you need to shop intelligently. Here is what you need to know:
         Start with a quick education of common GPS terms, and why they’re important.
  • Waypoints – These are your navigation coordinates that you have saved to memory within the GPS. Most receivers will hold 500. That said, you only need to keep a few on your GPS all the time. Use the free program at to store the rest.
  • Find/Go To – This is the navigation function of the receiver. It is this function that will “steer” you to your destination.
  • Coordinates: This refers to a geographic grid system and pinpoints your position in the world. The most common is Latitude and Longitude though many outdoorsmen quickly shift to Universal Transverse Mercator (UTM) because of its simplicity.
  • Compass – An electronic counter-part to your magnetic compass. The GPS compass is dependent on batteries, like the rest of the system, so don’t leave your magnetic compass at home.
Every GPS has these basic features. Anything additional are bells and whistles. It will be up to you to determine which ones are functionally important. For example, I am both a hunter and backpacker. I like a GPS with a Barometric altimeter because I use that function to monitor atmospheric pressure at high elevations. I know through personal experiences that when the pressure drops the weather is changing – I may be looking for shelter.
When looking to buy a GPS receiver consider the following:
  • Decide how much you want to spend. If you don’t know what a GPS might cost, visit, and to get a good price baseline. Check the manufacturer’s web site (such as for rebate offers. Then research the web with for reviews on specific models.
  • Ask friends with GPS’s what they use theirs for and what their recommendation would be. One size definitely doesn’t fit all! An avid geocacher would have different needs than a hunter. A hunter might opt for a model with a two way radio such as the Garmin Rino series.
  • Older folks and those not “tech savvy” seem to do better with a GPS that has buttons on the front (GarminMap 62/64 series); it seems to be more intuitive. As an instructor, I’ve found that buttons along the side can become frustrating for people with less steady hands.

In the store, pick up the receiver, look at the controls and hold it as you would when using it.  Ask yourself: 

  • Does it feel like a good fit?
  • Can I read the buttons and comfortably push them? (With gloves?)
  • Is the screen size adequate? 
  • Is the GPS simple or just too complex for me?
  • Mapping programs are nice but expect to pay $100.00 or more.  Ask a friend with a GPS and see for yourself if the mapping is an asset for you.  Can you read what is presented on the screen or is it just clutter?  Visit GPS File Depot for free maps to load on your GPS.
  • Find out what the store’s return policy is on electronics and what their return rate is with various models. 
  • Whatever you buy, hang on to that receipt and register the product soon after purchase. 

 Once you buy a GPS:

  • Keep fresh batteries in it.  Don’t put it in the closet, or store it in your survival kit. Take it out and use it; now.  You can’t break it,.
  •  You should practice your GPS and map and compass skills often.  Your  wilderness land navigation skills could, given a bad turn of weather or situation, become  a matter of survival. 
  •  Visit the manufacturers website once every six months or so.  The manufactures frequently offer free up-grades allowing the GPS’s internal software to run more efficiently.  It is usually a simple down load to make your GPS current.

A good way to learn is to take a class where you will learn the basics and how your receiver works.  Check with your local Community College’s continuing education program or Sporting Goods stores to see if they offer classes.

And don’t forget: a GPS is no substitute for a map and a quality compass and the knowledge of how to use them.  The most expensive GPS on the market is only as good as its batteries.  Anything electronic can fail and they do so at the most inconvenient time.

Topographic Maps

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Philip Werner at Section Hiker has a super post about the poor quality of the new USGS topograhic maps.

“Have you ever noticed how incomplete and out of date digital maps are when it comes to hiking trails? At least on the free USGS maps you can download on the web and that come bundled with GPS devices or Smartphone navigation apps. In my neck of the woods, you still need to use the waterproof paper maps published by local cartographers because they’re far more up-to-date than digital maps.”

Pace – Measuring Distance in the Backcountry

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 Many outdoorsmen measure distance in the backcountry by using a Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver.   GPS receivers are reasonably accurate, real time, and provide distance traveled and distance to a destination.
But what does the hiker do if they don’t have a receiver, the GPS fails or batteries die?

A proven method for estimating distance is known as pacing.  Pacing is not as accurate as the GPS receiver, but it can give a reasonable approximation of the distance traveled.  Together with a map and compass, pacing is an important component of evaluating a hiker’s track through the backcountry.  In darkness or periods of low visibility pacing helps to determine the hiker’s location through a process known as dead reckoning. 

Pacing is a method that begins with measuring one’s stride, with the intent of determining an individual’s length of stride. A pace is a measured two steps; a complete stride.  As illustrated below, every time the right foot hits the ground is one pace. Each pace (two steps) normally measures out to almost 50-60 inches.

Perhaps the best method to determine a hiker’s pace is to record it over a specific distance to determine an average.  Before embarking on the trail, the individual should develop a “pace average” over a controlled area first. 
For example, measure the number of paces for a known distance of 100 yards.  To achieve this, go to a high school foot ball field or track.  Walk along a sideline from end zone to end zone.  Count how many paces it takes to go 100 yards.  Do this eight times and record the total number of paces for each 100 yard event.  Determine the average for all eight 100 yard lengths completed.  The result is that the hiker may determine that the average 100 yard pace count to be 58 ½ paces.  (With children compensate and be mindful of their strides being significantly different, including a skip here and an off trail discovery there.)

Whatever the “pace average” may be, do keep the stride natural and smooth.  Don’t try to exaggerate and unnaturally lengthen the stride.

Don’t get too bogged down in the estimation of the accuracy of the average pace. Of larger importance is to understand the complexity of the terrain and how it will impact stride and a hiker’s “pace average”.   Anticipate strides being different.  Take the time beforehand to imitate a 100 yard course on sloping ground.  Further, try a 100 yard pace in soft soil and hard soil, smooth ground and rocky ground. Move to other locations once an average pace is found on a controlled level environment (football field).  Layout a 100 yard course on sloping ground. 

Pacing over long distance can become quite boring and the hiker easily distracted.  This is especially true when the pace count is in the hundreds.  Was that pace 545 or 554?  In such cases pacing beads may be a useful tool.  Pacing beads can be purchased from online venders or made at home using paracord and simple beads. 

A quick Google search will turn up several methods for using pacing beads.  For example, Wikipedia states that “As users walk, they typically slide one bead on the cord for every ten paces taken. On the tenth pace, the user slides a bead in the lower section towards the knot. After the 90th pace, all 9 beads are against the knot. On the 100th pace, all 9 beads in the lower section are returned away from the knot, and a bead from the upper section is slid upwards, away from the knot.”
Pacing beads can be an important asset when Dead Reckoning (known as DR) with a map and compass.  Vigilant compass sighting and a steady “pace average” helps provide a rough approximation of both distance and direction when moving through the backcountry.

Managing Your GPS Waypoints

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Before getting too detailed lets understand just what a waypoint is.  As long as the GPS is on, it will collect information from the satellites of the GPS constellation. The receiver in your hand collects updates about once a second.  When you select “mark”, that position information is automatically saved to memory; this is a waypoint. This data is the latitude/longitude of your position, your coordinates. This position information is automatically tagged with a default identification number like 001. Managing these tags is what waypoint management is all about.

Lots of things can happen to a waypoint or data file.  You can put data in. You can take data out.  You can lose it (the GPS breaks or the wrong button entry is selected.)  But be careful, too much data can make your navigation difficult.
In my land navigation class I stress keeping your navigation simple.  Frequent and simple waypoint management is essential to GPS use.  When it’s time to return to the truck, it should be obvious what waypoint to select. 
Dump the junk before the start of a trip.  A GPS receiver can store hundreds of waypoints.  I recommend that as you leave the trail head your GPS should have only necessary data saved on your GPS for that trip.  That waypoint for last year’s great fishing trip is important but needs to be saved elsewhere.  
Start by deleting Waypoints that really are not needed.  Free those data bites to the atmosphere.
To save your “got to have, must save Waypoints.” 
1.       Use Garmin’s “Trip and Waypoint Manager.”  It probably came with your GPS.  It can also be purchased from Garmin for about $30.00;  Down load those Waypoints to your PC.
2.        If you don’t have the Garmin program, consider “Easy GPS.”  It is free and available at
3.        Log the important data in a notebook.
Electronic storage allows you to save waypoints and track data (that bread crumb trail on your map screen.)  Further, you can upload old Waypoints another day for a trip to that special fishing spot.  This data can also be down loaded into your friends GPS too.  It can also be uploaded to your new GPS in the future.
When you receive or transfer waypoint data always verify that you have the compatible map

datum and coordinate system set on your receiver.

Finally, give important waypoints a name.  It’s easier to remember a waypoint named  “CAMP” instead of 21 (or was it 25.)

The North Star

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Polaris (the North Star) is a beacon that we can use to guide us in the backcountry. Few hikers use the celestial bodies in the night sky to navigate by.  But on a clear night, the night sky provides a feature that is an excellent source of direction.  It doesn’t matter if it is June or November, if you are in Wyoming or Oregon.

Consider that Polaris is fixed in position over the northern pole.  Unique from other celestial stars and planets, Polaris is very closely aligned to the earth’s axis.  Stars and planets rotate around Polaris.  And like the sun, this rotation is from east to west through the sky.  Polaris will be found approximately half way between the northern horizon and straight overhead.  In the northern hemisphere, Polaris can found in our northern sky and is never more 1° from true north – the North Pole. 

Constellations help locate Polaris.  Cassiopeia and the Big Dipper point to Polaris.  Uniquely, Cassiopeia, the Big Dipper and Little Dipper can be seen in relation to Polaris year round.  In winter, the constellation of Orion will also help locate Polaris.

Figure 1.  The Pointing Stars point to Polaris

In the case of the Big Dipper (above), an imaginary line is drawn from the two pointer stars to Polaris.

 Polaris will be found about at a distance of five times the space between the two pointing stars.

Another view of Polaris and adjacent constellations is seen below.

So what does this do for the hiker?

The essence is that Polaris is another visual handrail at night.  In an earlier post, I discussed the process of orienting a topographic map.  Large terrain features were identified as “backcountry handrails.” (Handrails can include roads, railroad beds, ridge lines, power transmission lines and streams.) Handrails help align the map and give the traveler a sense of relationship to the topography both on the map and what is nearby.  For example, if the hiker determines that Butler Butte will always be to the left and west of the trail then that butte becomes a visual aid for navigation. At night geographic features may not be quite so visible and distinct.  So on a clear dark night Polaris can aid the wilderness navigator by providing direction to true north.

This visual reference compliments a magnetic compass.  (Ideally the hiker uses a declination adjustable magnetic compass.)

It’s always right there in the same place (even if you can’t see it at the moment) and doesn’t require batteries.

Cloud cover and forest canopy will limit the ability to navigate and use Polaris.  If Polaris is completely obscured but some sky is visible, attempt to find east.  Like the sun, stars and planets rotate through the sky from east to west.  Find a star and monitor its movement over a period of a few minutes.  Once you’ve determined where east is, north is to the left.

Like all navigation skills, using the night sky takes practice.  Before heading out on your next adventure, practice at home, look for Polaris at varying times. Observe the star’s relationship to the other celestial bodies.

Here is another post on the North Star from my local newspaper.

Here are a couple of good references:

  • June Fleming’s book Staying Found is a fine reference about backcountry navigation. 

  • Google’s Sky Map

Fitting A Back Pack Correctly

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Section Hiker has a post that I recommend backcountry hikers consider.  Hikers know that a waist belt is vital to comfortable travel with a pack.  But rarely do you find information on how it should fit your waist and hips.

“When buying a backpack you want to make sure that the hip belt is long enough so that it transfers most of your pack weight off your shoulders and onto your hips so that you can use the biggest muscles in your body, your legs, to carry most of the weight.”  Visit Section Hiker’s site for the details.

Bubble in My Compass

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Occasionally a bubble will become present inside the compass dial assembly.  Small bubbles the size of an air rifles’ “bb” will general not be a problem in the field.

Small bubbles generally develop into bigger bubbles. 

I visited the Silva websiteand found the following:

“We intend that our compasses are free of bubbles; however, if a small bubble forms in the liquid-filled capsule, it has no influence on the accuracy of the compass. Its appearance and disappearance are due to changes in temperature and atmospheric pressure. If a bubble larger than 1/4″ in diameter appears, it is probably the result of a leaking capsule, usually caused by some form of shock damage, and the capsule will have to be replaced. In that case, just call our customer satisfaction department for a return authorization number and shipping address. From the U.S.A, call 1-800-572-8822 between 8 am-6 pm, eastern time. From Canada, call 1-800-263-6390.”

It is nice that a manufacturer of outdoor gear takes some responsibility.  Expect similar support from Brunton and Suunto.

If you have a cheap compass purchased at WalMart…just buy a new compass such as the

Silva Ranger on the Suunto M2.

If a liquid filled compass housing develops a leak table the compass in a plastic sandwich bag.  Don’t take it back to the field, it will become a mess.

Buying a New Compass

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Silva Ranger  – Outdoor Quest Image

There are several things to keep in mind when buying a compass.

My preferred compass is a declination adjustable sighting compass (with mirror) like the trail proven “Silva Ranger.” (Silva, Brunton and Suunto all make good compasses.) The key is that this type of compass can be adjusted for magnetic declination and that keeps your wilderness navigation simple. You can expect to pay roughly $35.00 – $60.00; a cheap compass will not serve the hiker well.

My experience is that most sales clerks are compass illiterate and have little navigation experience.  While looking at a compass ask the clerk to remove it from the plastic container/packaging.  Check the compass to ensure:

  1. The dial moves freely and does not stick.  
  2. There are no bubbles internal to the liquid filled compass housing.
  3.  Information engraved on the base plate must be legible.  If there is a magnifying glass verify that it is clear and not scratched. 
  4. The tick marks on the dial are in two degree increments.  The tick marks should be readable.
  5. The base plate, rotating dial assembly, and mirror are not chipped or broken.  
  6. The sighting assembly hinge allows freedom of movement without excess side to side movement at the hinge .

 Packaging should clearly state that the compass is declination adjustable.  Adjustable compasses may have a small metal tool that allows for setting the declination.  If the packaging states that the compass has declination marking but does not use the word adjustable move to another model.

After purchase visit the website to determine the declination of the area the hiker will be traveling through.

Remember that the red magnetic needle will always point to magnetic north.  With a declination adjustable compass the rotating dial has been adjusted so that the information provided by the compass is now in degrees true.

Navigation Term of the Month: Map Scale.

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Topographic Map – Scale
By Blake Miller defines map scale as:
“A ratio which compares a measurement on a map to the actual distance between locations identified on the map.”

A topographic (topo) map’s scale information is located at the bottom center of the map.  Other maps will generally have scale information in the large map key that outlines many of the features and data printed on the map.
The map scale for a United States Geologic Survey (USGS) 7.5 topo minute map is highlighted below.

What Is An Azimuth?

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An azimuth is the angular direction to an object.  Azimuths are described commonly in degree increments from either true, magnetic or grid north.

In the world of recreational navigation, GPS receiver operations and orienteering the use of the term “bearing” has become synonymous with azimuth.

Azimuth direction is measured from north clockwise in 360° increments. The point from which the azimuth originates is from the center of an imaginary circle.  This imaginary point is the operator.

Azimuth can be measured with a magnetic compass, a map and by rough estimation using the sun and North Star.

Azimuths can be expressed in degrees true and degrees magnetic.  Degrees true uses the north pole as the principle reference while degrees magnetic refers to reference from the magnetic pole.

Outdoor Quest Image
For more information on bearings and azimuth read Making Sense of The Declination Diagram.

Addressing Hearing Loss

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Addressing Hearing Loss

Some families play board games; some take an annual trip to the beach. Our family traditions were a

little bit different. I completed my first summit of the 14,411-foot Mount Rainier when I was 12 years old – something normal by my family’s standards. Some of you may know my uncle, Jim Whittaker, the first American to summit Mount Everest. Or my dad, Lou Whittaker, the founder of Rainier Mountaineering.

Along with a love of climbing, I inherited from my family a deep passion for life and adventure. As my father was famed to have said, “When it comes to dying, I want to know what it is like to have really lived.” I have translated that spirit into everything I do in life – from mountaineering, to making music, to filmmaking.

About ten years ago, though, my wife Sarah started to notice that my love of adrenaline may not have been the only thing I’d inherited from my dad – it seemed my hearing, like his, was starting to go.

At the time, I didn’t really notice any of the effects of my declining hearing, so I pretty much waved it off. And, then, it become noticeable. Within a few years, it was more often than not that I had to ask a client in climbing school to repeat a question. It was becoming a bit more difficult to find the exact right sound when I was recording with my band.

Between my dad’s hearing loss and my lifelong love of loud music and power tools – it wasn’t a huge shock I had found myself at this point. But I can’t lie – I was not thrilled at the thought of having to get a hearing aid. My reluctance was not because of any stigma attached to hearing aids, but more so because of the hassle of setting them up. I knew you have to go into the audiologist repeatedly to get them working just right. Even then, with all of the various environments I am in, I knew there was no way that one setting would work across the board. To add to my hesitation, in addressing my dad’s hearing loss, it didn’t seem like his hearing aids had helped him at all. Particularly in crowded environments, his hearing aids just amplified sound, making the environment overwhelming.

I didn’t want that, especially since I was still regularly climbing and guiding climbs up the mountain. If a hearing aid just picked up and amplified the sound of the wind, it wouldn’t do much good for me in that setting – one of the environments where my hearing was the most important to me. So, for that reason, I kept putting off addressing my hearing loss.

That was, until last year, when I was introduced to the ReSound LiNX. I had mentioned the idea to my audiologist before but it wasn’t yet in existence – the idea of being able to easily adjust the audio settings of a hearing aid on my own. The LiNX was the first ever Made for iPhone hearing aid, which meant it communicated directly with your phone and could be adjusted wirelessly through an app.

As an audio engineering geek, I was hooked right away. Through the ReSound Smart app, I could use my iPhone to adjust my hearing aids’ volume, bass and treble, and direction of sound amplification. Calls and music were streamed directly through my phone to the aids. The first day I was fitted with the ReSound LiNX, I remember hearing the sounds of rain squelch under my shoes, and my shoes subsequently squeaking on the tile when I got home – sounds I hadn’t even realized I was missing out on.

Now – wearing ReSound’s latest, the LiNX2 – I can hear a pebble falling on the mountain. My clients tell me my hearing is bionic. Sometimes I think about my decision to address my hearing loss. Like any other challenge in life, I took it head on, now sporting a bright red hearing aid behind my ears. And, as someone who isn’t ready to slow down at all, I sure am happy that I did.

Terrain Association

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“A good view will help to form a picture of the shape, the patterns and grain of the land itself.  High ground will tell a story of the geological formations and erosion.”

                                    The Natural Navigator by Tristan Gooley

Terrain association is a key step in land navigation.  While the topographic (topo) map identifies terrain features through the use of contour lines, colors and symbols, terrain association is a process of confirmation of map to land features.

In the field a key step in terrain association is to orient the topo.