How to Get a Free Survival Map of Your Local Area A survival map is an important part of any survival kit. There is no excuse not to have one because getting one is quick, easy, and free. Print maps of all areas you may need in the event of an emergency. If you have a …
A handheld GPS Receiver is an excellent navigation tool and they come with a wide variety of form factors, features, and options for many different intended uses. Being a ‘modern’ survival site, we certainly acknowledge this particular high-tech gadget and its wide array of functionality and usefulness in our lives today. while a compass, map, […]
The other day my wife sent me on a mission to China to recover an important tactical item. That would be China, Maine and the item was a coffee table she found on Craigslist. Anyway, I jumped in my trusty pickup truck, fired up the GPS, and headed inland from the coast to grab the package. The GPS, a literal device, took me on the shortest route. Which, as you’ve probably discovered, doesn’t always necessarily mean the fastest. I was going up over mountains, down back roads, and twisting back and forth on an old dirt road that made me happy I have survival gear in the back of my truck.
Now, the coffee table was in South China, and when I got to an intersection where I could go left to South China or right to China it took me right. Confused, I stopped and checked it out a little closer. It took me north over China lake and down the other side. Ok, I thought, maybe they consider “south” to be on the west side of the lake. People and directions are funky and I was willing to give my GPS the benefit of the doubt. With a few misgivings, I followed the GPS.
I should have listened to my instincts. I got to the other side of the lake and all my warning bells were now going off like a five-alarm fire. I pulled over, looked, and sure enough the GPS was taking me to the wrong address. I put in the address I wanted and it pointed to another area. I won’t use the real address, but here’s an example of how it appeared. Address I typed into the GPS: 83 Fire Road #45, China Me. It decided I really wanted to go to: Fire road 45, no number address. Ok, they give addresses very oddly in China, so I tried this instead: Fire Road 83, #45. It then decided I really wanted to go to Fire Road 11. WTF?
I poked at it for a few minutes with rising frustration then did something I haven’t had to do for awhile. I asked for directions. There was a guy across the street playing with his dog and I pulled in and asked if he knew where Fire Road 83 was. He rubbed his chin for a minute while his friendly black lab sniffed my leg. I patted the dog (best part of the whole trip) while he thought about it. He then pointed me to the other side of the lake with some head scratching, giving me low confidence in his directions.
At a store on the top of China lake, I stopped and asked directions. Nope. They had no idea. I called the woman I was getting the item from and she asked where I was. When I told her I was at the top of China Lake, she said, “What are you doing there?” She then gave me some confusing directions on how to get to her house. I finally asked her what she was near and she gave me the address of a bank. When I put that in to the GPS, it worked and I followed it there. Of course, when I got there, the GPS told me I was at Fire Road 83, #45, just where I wanted to be. Really? Thanks a lot!
Not Just Road Directions Either
A few years ago I was hiking behind my house following my GPS. As you know, driving and hiking are two very different forms of navigation, so being the paranoid survivalist that I am I was keeping track of my location with a map and compass too. At one point I looked down and it showed my location in a town about fifteen or twenty miles away in a completely different county! There was a moment of “congnitive dissonance” as I looked at both map and GPS. Finally I put the GPS away and followed the map and compass. I knew exactly where I was even if the GPS didn’t. I told a friend about this and he said, “Yeah, sometimes that happens.”
So, I did what any self-respecting human being would do and turned to Google. Turns out this is a pretty common issue. Wow. I’m no Luddite. I love my phone and my laptop. I use Linux. I understand computer networks. I get it. But after a little study, I’ve determined that if you’re going to trust yourself to a technology that works “most of the time,” you might find your ass lost in the woods crying about your GPS.
Carry a Compass
I’ve written about this before and I’ll write about it again. If you’re going to go out in the wilderness, carry a map and compass. Carry it, know how to use it, and at the very least be able to follow a cardinal direction. A few years ago Geraldine Largay went off the Appalachian Trail and got lost. Her body was found a couple of years later. She had a compass but didn’t know how to use it. A compass is not an ornament. If you put it in your pack, at least know the basics of how to use it.
In my opinion, the best way to operate in the wild is to use your GPS as primary navigator with a map and compass as backup. This accomplishes two things.
- You’ll learn map and compass reading almost as well as how to use a GPS.
- If your GPS fails for whatever reason, you’ll know where you are and how to get out safely.
Use a Bailout Azimuth
I coined the term Bailout Azimuth. If you’re lost and can’t go point to point, you can at least follow your compass until you hit a road, stream, river, or landmark. Refer to the map on Geraldine Largay. Look carefully at where her remains were found and then look where the Appalachian Trail is. A little common sense and some very basic map reading skills could have saved this woman’s life, but she chose to walk north looking for a cell phone signal instead of following her compass south back to the trail. I’ve been in this part of the Maine woods before and it would be quite easy to walk off the trail and get lost. That’s why a compass is a critical piece of equipment.
Related: GizzMoVest GPS Cases
In this case, she moved north of the trail. The moment she discovered she was lost, she should have pulled out her map and compass. She would have seen that she was hiking east on that particular piece of trail. With a little study, she would have found that moving south or east would bring her back to the trail. Instead she made a fatal error and moved north. This really breaks my heart because a small amount of time spent at a compass class could have saved her life.
There are many stories where a GPS led people off road in their vehicles and they wound up stranded in the wilderness. Sometimes they get rescued, sometimes they don’t. Don’t be a statistic, folks. Learn how to read a map and compass and be a survivor. That’s why you’re here isn’t it? To learn how to survive? Trust me, if there’s one skill you can learn that trumps everything else, it’s how to navigate in the wilderness with a map and compass.
Use your GPS! Like I said, I love mine; however, I try to be critical of it when traveling because it’s not always 100% accurate.
Here’s a little challenge for you. The next time you decide to go on a trip take out a map and plot it by hand to see if you remember how. I’ll bet when you look at the route you selected and where your GPS wants to take you, you’ll be thinking, “Why the hell is it taking me that way?” Questions? Comments? Sound off below!
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To find your direction at night, you only need to find the ‘North Star’ (Polaris) to know the direction of “true north”. Note, the North Star is NOT the brightest star at night (many people assume that it is). The North Star is actually of average brightness. If you can find the Big Dipper in […]
Tools You Will Want in an Outdoor Emergency
When preparing an emergency kit for the car or camper, or for a compartment in your backpack, keep in mind that usefulness must be combined with situational likelihood. If a vehicle malfunction leaves you stranded on a forest service road in the mountains, you may need certain items that aren’t all that necessary if your car breaks down on the interstate highway. Likewise, if you’re on a backpacking trek, you might need to fend for yourself for longer than if you encounter bad weather and flooding at a campground.
In addition to the obvious inclusion of energy bars, dried fruit, Mylar thermal blankets, rain jackets, and matches, consider packing some special tools that will come in handy. The following list contains essential items that you may want to keep in a separate duffel bag in your car or SUV, or in a special container stowed in a larger backpack.
1) LED Flashlight
These are lightweight, the battery lasts far longer than a light with an incandescent bulb, and most of the outdoor-suitable models are practically unbreakable. In fact, it’s a good idea to have at least two LED flashlights on hand, one of which is head-mounted for hands-free use.
2) Collapsible Shovel
The best models are the ones that have a simple, pull-out handle that is then fixed tightly with a twist mechanism. The shovel head should be made of high-strength steel. This tool can be valuable if your car gets stuck in thick mud or gravel, and it can also be used to dig a fire pit. Choose a model that fits into a stowaway compartment on the SUV or laid flat in the bottom of an outdoor preparedness duffle.
3) Lighters and Fire-starter
Several disposable lighters should be packed in a watertight compartment in the emergency kit or in a zip-loc style bag in a backpack. In addition, invest in a Magnesium Fire-starter. These come as two blocks that are struck together and come on a chain. Make sure to practice using it before you head out into the wilderness. (APN recommends these fire starters. Jalapeno Gal has one and it is her personal favorite.)
4) Multi-Purpose Knife and Fixed Blade Knife
A Swiss Army knife or similar model is one of the most invaluable tools you can have with you should you become stuck in the wilderness. It only takes a little practice to memorize where the various blades are located. Make sure the model chosen has a mini-sized saw blade, a small pair of snippers or shears, and a metal file. Keep a fixed-blade knife with at least a five-inch blade in the emergency kit in addition to the folding knife.
5) Stainless Steel Water Bottle
It’s important to have plenty of water, and most of the supply can be stored in plastic bottles. However, keep at least one steel water bottle in the emergency kit as well. It can serve as a container for boiling water if necessary. Stainless steel has naturally occurring anti-septic properties that will keep your pumped water cleaner than most other bottles.
6) Outdoor Wallet
Although fashionable to carry in public, a camo wallet is actually designed for easy location of cards, folded maps, and small tools. Some of the best dual- and tri-fold styles have separate cash pockets and checkbook inserts. When taking one with you on a trip, keep a list of map directions to nearby destinations inside. If your phone or GPS goes dead, you’ll be glad you did.
7) Map and Compass
You might not think of these as tools, but they can save your life. Don’t rely on GPS devices if you get stuck in the middle of nowhere. Make sure you have a paper map that shows the area where you are traveling, and download a map onto your smartphone as well. Keep a compass in the emergency kit, separate from those you carry on your person. Remember to keep the emergency kit compass in its own container, and don’t store it next to anything else that is magnetic.
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.
It’s a good idea not to rely solely on your GPS tracker. A good compass (and map) will enable you to navigate without the high tech. Map reading and navigation by map in this modern day-and-age of GPS is apparently seldom used by hikers, hunters, campers, etc.. who instead rely on GPS trackers. The problem […]