Using Your Cell Phone In The Backcountry

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Last month Jenny Rough wrote an interesting article about why it is a mistake to con you a cell phone when hiking.

She stressed that basic navigation skill “is a use-it-or-lose-skill.  How true.


The thrust of the post is that hikers have an over dependence of electronic navigation while forsaking the rudimentary  principles of using a map and compass. 

Take a look at Jenny’s post.

Visit my other articles on land navigation too:









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.

DESTINYSURVIVAL Land Navigation Interview

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DESTINYSURVIVAL Land Navigation Interview gman Over the last 9 years or so I’ve produced approximately 3,500 LIVE radio broadcasts and have re-broadcasted countless more from other great pod-casters on the 24/7 feed here at Prepper Broadcasting. The rewards are not monetary, what money we bring in pays the costs to run the network if we are fortunate. … Continue reading DESTINYSURVIVAL Land Navigation Interview

The post DESTINYSURVIVAL Land Navigation Interview appeared first on Prepper Broadcasting |Network.

Plot Your Position With a Compass

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 A quality compass is an integral part of the backcountry navigator’s kit.  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.

This post discusses the steps to be taken to use a compass to plot one’s location on a topographic (topo) map in the back country.  In the vocabulary of navigation this is also known as “fixing” or determining “position.”

The first step is to ensure that the hiker has adequate maps both in quality and quantity.   I recommend carrying a set of maps that include 7.5’ United States Geological Survey (USGS) maps and a second map type such a United States Forest Service map.  The USGS map gives me the detailed information of the immediate area while the other map covers a much broader and larger area. 

Before heading for the trail, take a look at the maps at home.  Scouting from your desk allows you to find significant land features that will surround the direction of travel.  Features such as distinct mountain peaks, a stream, and a ridge line are just of few topographic “hand rails” that can be of value in the field.  By spending some time at home with the map the hiker develops a mental map, a mental picture of the trek in advance of the actual journey. 

Account for declination before leaving the trailhead.  I like to keep my navigation simple and personally use a compass that can be adjusted for declination such as the Brunton 8010G.  Declination information found at the bottom of a topographic map is frequently out of date.  Check the web site www.magnetic-declination.com  for the current declination.

 “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 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 determined and plotted.

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.)  A compass can also assist the hiker by orienting a map and following a line of bearing taken from a map.

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 (a red arrow engraved in the rotating housing) underneath the red magnetic needle.

 

To determine and plot or “fix” a position, the next step is to plot bearings on the map. 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°.  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 (or more) distinct objects to sight on.  Note that the objects need to be on the topo of the area. 

  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. 

  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.  Be as accurate as you can, point directly at the object.

  4. 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.  Importantly, the movement of the magnetic needle is not important.

  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.

  1. 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.) 

  2. Draw a line (along the baseplate) from the object (e.g., the mountain peak) to your approximate area.  Draw a nice long line.

  3. Repeat the process two more times using other distant objects to sight on.

  4. Ideally the three lines will intersect in the immediate area; this is the hikers location.  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.

   

Getting Accurate Compass Readings

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I found these recommendations a while back when I was researching techniques for using a magnetic compass.  A small error when using a compass can result in a significant error in measurement on the ground.

To obtain accurate readings when using a compass:

  • Ensure the compass has be adjusted for declination. 
  • Hold the compass level and steady so the needle swings freely.
  • Hold the compass about waist high in front of the body, except when using a compass with a sighting mirror or a sighting type compass.
  • Raise and lower eyes when taking a bearing, do not move your head. Always use the same eye when taking bearings.
  • Directly face object that is being measured.
  • Magnetic fields will give incorrect compass readings. Avoid taking readings near magnetic fields such as steel, iron (ferrous metals), vehicles, rebar, and clipboards. Even belt buckles, glasses, and rings can interfere with the compass reading.
  • Take bearing twice. 
  • Adjust for magnetic declination as appropriate.
  • Follow the direction of travel arrow, not the compass needle, when walking a bearing. Always follow the line indicated by the compass rather than relying on judgment as to the direction.
  • Use back bearings to ensure you are on track when navigating.

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 www.mytopo.com’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.  Wikipedia.com 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.

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 www.landnavigation.org 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 www.magnetic-declination.com to get the correct value before leaving home.


The north star

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 www.topomaps.usgs.gov.)   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 www.magnetic-declination.com.

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.

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.


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 

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. 

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


     







Field Tested: MilGPS App, Eberlestock V69 Destroyer, Salomon Quest Boots

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Last week I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to put three products through their paces while on a military land navigation course.  While I’ve owned them all for a little while now it felt like this was a chance to solely focus on how well they helped (or hindered) me when it came to accomplishing a GO/No-GO task, this versus toying around with them while on any old trail.  I’ve written about how much value I put in great shoes/boots (specifically the Salomon’s), the same for my Eberlestock pack and I may or may not have touched on the MilGPS app available for both the iPhone and Android devices.

The Task: Land Navigation

I’ve been walking land navigation courses with a map, compass and protractor since I was in JROTC in the early/mid 1990’s.  Anyone remember Tenino, Washington?  Where is the water tower?  Sorry…inside joke.  Last week’s land navigation course would be an intermediate course by my standards, not an overly difficult tast but the elevation changes/underbrush and wait-a-minute vines were slightly annoying.  I should add that while I do value old school land nav and think it’s a great skill for any prepper and not just the military types, this time old school would take a back seat to technology.  I needed to find out if the MilGPS app was legit and could be relied on even with the cell signal fading in and out.  I also needed to shun standard mil issued gear for my own swag which often results in one wondering how in the world aftermarket gear can be so much better than issued stuff, but I digress.

Salomon Boots:  Just ridiculously good.

First up were the Salomon boots.  I’ve been wearing them casually to work and for some light hiking but nothing like what the land nav course would offer, additionally I’ve yet to wear them while carrying somewhere in the neighborhood of 60lbs on my back.  To complicate things a bit more I’ve been fighting a very sore/tender Achilles tendon for a few months, a byproduct of age and trying to sprint out of the batter’s box during a beer league softball game.

Salomon Quest Boots

Salomon Quest Boots

The boots (paired with Smartwool socks) performed flawlessly all day long under all conditions.  The footing was uneven and unpredictable for most of the day and the ankle support provided by the boots was superb.  Descending into dry river beds or climbing up the side of steep spurs did not present an issue either, grip was fantastic and support was there.  My foot did not move around inside the boot and that was definitely a bonus, if you’ve ever had that happen you’ll know it can get very annoying. No hot spots during the entire event and my feet were able to breathe quite nicely.  Great boots overall although a longer term test might reveal some shortcomings.

Eberlestock V69 Destroyer: Amazing.

Eberlestock V69 Destroyer

Eberlestock V69 Destroyer

You don’t know what you don’t know, a saying that originated somewhere but has since been repeated through the years.  I’ve always been a staunch supporter of the old school ALICE pack and had even continued to use that after being issued the newer model.  Yet even with aftermarket shoulder straps and other additions the ALICE pack is like a rusty Ford Pinto when compared to a new supercar:  the Eberlestock pack.  As a veteran of many, many movements under load I know how the discomfort starts to set in and how to deal with it while wearing an ALICE pack.  I can assure you that NONE of this was present while wearing the Eberlestock pack so much so that I wore it all day long.  I never took a moment to drop my pack for a breather, I just motored on because the level of comfort was simply amazing.  No pressure points at all, it was like the pack was part of my body and moved with me.  Truly I believe the combination of their internal frame design, waist strap and shoulder straps really contribute to a world class experience for the wearer.  I should add one caveat in that while it was a long day it was only ONE day.  To truly get a feel for this pack I would have to wear it every day for a few weeks, so take that in consideration with my endorsement.

Land Nav With Eberlestock V69 Destroyer

You’ll notice in the picture that I have my tent strapped to the outside of my pack, that’s because I took it out to make room for my Kelly Kettle.  Look for a review on that soon although The Maj used it with great success on his bugout journey last year.

MilGPS App: Surprisingly Good.

I can hear almost any instructor ever in the history of land navigation right now: “all those gadgets are great but if they fail what will you do then?”  I get it.  I GET IT.  It’s great to know the old school methods but let’s face it, technology is here and the MilGPS App can be a great addition to any prepper plan of action.

I will admit that I did plot all of my points and kept my grids, distances and directions just in case while out on the course but I absolutely did not need them.  I punched in the 10 digit grid on my app and hit “navigate to” and just followed the arrow.  I saw the distance, direction and in every instance the app brought me to within 10 meters of the point.  If there were instances when I did not want to break brush I would skirt it via a ridge line or riverbed and just cut through back to the point when about 100 to 200 meters away.  It was excellent and there was no remembering pace count, trying to box obstacles, shooting azimuth’s with the compass.  Just type in the destination and start walking.  Bingo.

MilGPS App Screenshot

MilGPS App

Now I do understand some of the constraints associated with using an app like this.  You’d better have a good battery and a way to recharge your battery if out in the woods.  While having a cell phone signal is nice according to the developer it isn’t exactly required.  Also if you don’t know how to utilize the military grid reference system or have access to maps with that date, that could be a slight problem.  More info here under the Land Navigation category of this blog.

Final Thoughts

I’m not sure how many times I’ve stated this before but you must get out and test your gear in the field.  It doesn’t even have to be a week long excursion deep into the Rocky Mountains, maybe an overnight hiking trip or even an all day through your local national forest.  It’s at that point when theory turns into practical application, when that fancy piece of equipment starts rubbing you in the wrong spot or doesn’t work as well as you thought.  Or maybe you’ll find ways to reconfigure your gear based on how you utilize it, or in many instances you’ll figure out that you can leave certain things home next time.

Nobody says you have to run out and drop $500 on new boots and a new bugout bag which you may or may not use in the next 6 to 12 months, but if you do decide to upgrade you really can’t go wrong with the items I’ve reviewed above.  The good news is that the MilGPS app is relatively inexpensive, so start with that!