Map, Compass & GPS

Map, Compass & GPS
Wild flowers along Fall Creek on the way to the Green Lakes - Oregon

Wednesday, November 25, 2015


My guests are arriving early for Thanks giving dinner.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Suunto Compass Review

A good friend alerted me to Sectionhikers' post about the Suunto M-3D compass.

"The Suunto M-3 D Compass is a baseplate style adventure compass with a declination adjustment that is optimized for use in forested or mountainous terrain where you can rarely see your destination. I’ve been using mine for 4 years, ever since I became really interested in off-trail hiking and navigation and started teaching those skills as a instructor for the Appalachian Mountain Club."

To read the complete post go here.

The Suunto M-3D is a super compass.  Think of it as a rugged scientific instrument.

This is a great choice for a Christmas present.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

GPS Battery Power

In 13 years of teaching GPS classes I have had very, very few reports of a GPS receiver breaking or failing electronically. What I do hear about is battery power draining at the worst time.
I’d offer a few suggestions:

  • Batteries will generally last for a reported 20 hours of continuous use; more on that shortly.  If you just turn it on, mark a waypoint, and turn the receiver off, the batteries will last quite a while.
  • I prefer the Duracell and COSTCO alkaline batteries.  I have found that cheap batteries don’t last as long and require replacement more frequently.
  • If a GPS receiver can use Lithium batteries then consider that option and do check the owner’s manual.  Lithium batteries are more expensive but last longer and work better in cold temperatures (down to -40°F).
  • Carry a spare set of AA batteries.
  • I keep fresh batteries in my GPS all the time.  That said, because of my SAR responsibilities and the frequency of my trips, fresh batteries are always loaded.  It’s my personal preference that “works for me.”
  • If you have an older receiver such as the Garmin 12, keep batteries in it always.  The four AA batteries keep the internal lithium battery charged.  The internal lithium provides power to retain saved waypoints and tracks.
  • Features such as the backlight, audible tones and electronic compasses drain a set of batteries.  On many models the electronic compass can be turned off by pressing and holding down the page button.  Manage your power needs.
I don’t have a baseline for rechargeable batteries.  My suggestion would be to keep extra’s on hand and really “wring them out” over a full day to see how well they work.  Do this before your trip afield; remember, it has to work for you.

I keep my GPS powered up all day when in the backcountry.  I download my track and waypoint data at the end of a hike to my Terrain Navigator software. This gives me the best historical record of my outing.  Usually batteries become drained after a full day and it just easier  to change them out as I get my gear ready for the next day.  

A fully charged GPS is a wonderful tool that complements your backcountry experience. Remember, even though you have the latest and best receiver, always take that map and compass on every trip.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Dangerous Weather in the Backcountry

In the field forecasting is an important skill for the backcountry hiker.  Learning the basics is an important first step.

Let me begin by stating that forecasting begins at home.  Monitor the local news and the cable weather channels to get a broad, general idea of the weather conditions before hitting the trail.  Further refine that information by checking inter net sources such as and the National Weather Service’s site
My “go to” reference is Northwest Mountain Weather by Jeff Renner (published by the Mountaineers.)   Renner is a professional meteorologist and broadcaster, an outdoorsman
and flight instructor.  Northwest Mountain Weather provides a superb overview on how “the weather works” in the Pacific Northwest.  Uniquely focused to this region, this book provides an overview on climate and weather, local weather patterns, snow and avalanche conditions, and provides many charts and data sources.  My favorite part of the book is Chapter Seven’s “Field Forecasting Guidelines.” This chapter identifies what to watch for and monitor while in the backcountry.  

The balance of this post will focus on what to consider about hiking during periods of thunderstorm activity.

The dark clouds of a thunderstorm provide a strong sense of mass and energy.  They can be seen a long way off.  Avoid them when possible.

As a storm develops you will notice that the clouds may change shape, grow taller and darker.In many cases an anvil shaped cloud growing tall and developing a distinct leading edge maybe observed.  This is a sign that a storm is on the way.

Lightning is the predominant killer associated with a thunderstorm.  Roughly 40 people are killed each year and approximately 240 are injured.  Visit the National Weather Service’s site for more information about lightning safety;

The ideal action to avoid the danger of a significant storm is to get out of the weather.  Leave the field for the safety of a building or a car.  Caves can provide shelter but must be deep and dry.  A shallow cave offers almost no protection.
Renner’s guide lines and actions include:

            “Do watch for cumulus showing strong upward development.
            Do choose a campsite uphill from valley floor.
            Do get away from exposed areas, pinnacles, peaks.
            Do get away from water.
            Do seek low ground in open valleys and meadows.
            Do move at once if hair or scalp feels tingly.
            Do not stand under trees.”[1]

Wilderness Survival trainer Peter Kummerfeldt amplifies Renner’s comment by adding the following:

            “Be proactive – don’t wait until you are getting wet to suspend outdoor activities.
Don’t be connected to the tallest object in the area.  If caught outside, move into low trees of even height and stand away from tree trunks.  Stay away from isolated trees.
Water is a great conductor of electricity – get out of the water at the first sign of a storm developing.”[2]  (For more information visit Kummerfeldt’s web site,

Thunderstorms have the potential to deliver large quantities of water.  Look for higher ground and stay out of stream beds that may flood significantly and without warning.
I monitor my GPS receiver’s barometer.  I change my elevation plot to a pressure plot and leave the receiver on.  Even though a GPS receiver may not be the most accurate it is the plot’s trend over time that I am concerned about.  Should I see the pressure drop noticeably I’ll take shelter or return to my vehicle.

The key is to stay alert and make a plan of action when a storm approaches. 
I previously posted a short article about using your GPS to monitor barometric pressure while in the backcountry; go here to read the post.  I thought it might be worthwhile to cover a few other topics about in the field observations.  This post is about thunderstorms.

[1] Jeff Renner, Northwest Mountain Weather, (The Mountaineers, 1992), p 100
[2] Peter Kummerfeldt, Surviving a Wilderness Emergency, (OutdoorSafe Press, 2006), p56-57 

Monday, November 9, 2015

The compass maker Brunton has listed the top 5 "navigation goofs" when using a compass.
  1. Having the map 180 degrees incorrect when taking a bearing ie getting north and south mixed up.
  2. Using a compass near metal objects, or near electronic items, causing the magnetic needle to be inaccurate.
  3. Looking at the map all of the time and not looking at visual clues in the real world.
  4. Losing concentration and walking too far when you get to your point, falling victim to confirmation bias – the tendency to see things that confirm you are right, but miss things that show you are wrong.
  5. Only carrying one compass with you. If one breaks you are stuck.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Contour Lines of a Topographic Map

Contours are the thin brown lines that snake across a topographic (topo) map.  Contour lines connect equal points of elevation such that every point on a specific line will be at that elevation above sea level. 


Contour lines are distinct and separate from lines for roads, coordinate systems (e.g., latitude and longitude) and trails.  Man made features like roads and buildings are black.  Contour lines are brown.  By adding elevation data to the map contour lines provide a three dimensional view of the terrain.  These lines provide shape and a sense of texture. 

The graphic above uses shading and electronic editing in an attempt to gain a three dimensional view of the terrain.  Compare the two maps.

Here are a few “keys to the kingdom” of reading these the brown contour lines.

There are two primary types of contour lines, index and intermediate lines. 

The dark brown, wider lines (below) are “index lines.”  The numbers adjacent correspond to altitude along the line.

For example, if the hiker locates his position on the topo and its right on top of the dark brown line with 5200 printed on the line, the altitude at that point is 5200 feet.  Consider the altitude to be the height above sea level.

The faint brown lines between the index lines are “intermediate contour” lines (see graphic above.)  Critical to intermediate lines is the specific elevation change between the lines.  This is known as the “contour interval.” The contour interval could be 10 feet, 20 feet or 200 feet; it just depends on the scale of the map and terrain.  To find the contour interval on a topo go to the bottom of the map or to the map key/index.  On a United States Geologic Survey (USGS) 7.5 minute topo map it will be at the bottom center of the map.  In the graphic below, the contour interval is circled in red.

In the small map above, look at Browns Mountain.  The spacing between the intermediate contour lines represents an elevation change of 20 feet.  Notice that the index lines are spaced five contour intervals apart or 100 feet between index lines.

Contour lines (index and intermediate) can provide a view of slope and pitch, depressions, ridge lines and level ground; the highs and lows of the earth’s surface.
The contour lines at Browns Mountain are close together and represent a steep increase in elevation.  Lines close together can indicate a peak, hill, ridge line or a cliff.

The contours of the land area to the left or west of Browns Mountain are spaced farther apart.  Such lines indicate flat ground like a meadow or plain.  Lines far apart make for gentle slopes and flat ground.

Ridges, valleys, and streams are represented by contour lines too.  A line’s shape identifies these land features.  For example, a valley’s shape is formed by a collection of “v’s.”  Tips of the v's point toward higher elevations.  Look at Alder Creek on the map below.  Note that the creek bed is in the bottom of a valley and water flow is from higher elevation to lower.

The contour lines that shape Alder Creek have v’s that point to higher altitude.  Look closely at the index lines and try to determine the elevation change as the creek flows north.

Contours shaped like a v or u, pointing toward lower elevation denotes ridges.  Notice the shape of the contour lines to the right and east of Alder Creek.  The v’s tips point toward lower elevation.  In fact, the v’s have become more like expanded “u’s.”

For more information about contour lines visit or search the internet for the “World of Teaching – Topographic maps” (a very fine power point presentation.)

Monday, November 2, 2015

Survival Bread

Leon wrote this post about two years ago.  Great info here.
Have you heard of Damper? It’s an Australian bread that’s made using few ingredients and cooked in a campfire. Stockmen and drovers would make it using their basic camping rations.” from Alex in Comments
by Leon Pantenburg
Actually, I had not heard of Damper, but I never need much excuse to experiment with survival foods, and asked Alex for a recipe.
“Leon, I think there are as many Damper recipes as there are cooks, and nobody agrees on what the real one is,” Alex replied. ” The basic recipe uses flour, baking powder, salt and milk, and is cooked in a campfire (either in a pot, or wrapped in foil, or suspended on a stick, or straight on the coals). It’s usually served with jam or honey or something similar.
“My great uncle was a drover, and he used to make it for us when he visited. We never could get his recipe straight – whenever we asked, he’d just grab handfuls of ingredients and say:  ‘You just add a bit of this and a bit of that…’ His came out perfect every time. Ours didn’t.”
Every prepper, survivalist or emergency preparedness enthusiast should have a variety of these simple, tasty recipes as part of their survival kit! Food is a basic survival requirement, but sometimes, even hunger can’t overcome  monotony. Eat the same thing, day after day, and some people might just quit eating.
So survival cooking, of necessity, must be simple and tasty! It makes sense that every region has an emergency-type  ration based on simple ingredients such as flour or meal.
Bannock, that staple among trappers and traders in the Northwest in the early to late 1800s,  probably originated in Scotland. “Ramrod rolls” were common in the Confederate Army because of  a lack of  options. In this recipe, a cornmeal dough was wrapped around a stick or ramrod, and toasted over a campfire.
Fry bread became a favorite among some Native
Hardtack, a very simple, long-lasting survival ration, is very easy to make and has the texture and consistency of a fired brick!
American tribes after they were forced onto reservations and issued flour and salt for rations. Hardtack was a standard American military ration for over 200 years.
Since Australia was colonized by Great Britain, I’d guess Damper is a variation of a popular English bread.
Regardless, Damper is easy to make, and don’t over-think it! In any of the following recipes, mix the dry ingredients together, add the milk or water and form a smooth dough. Don’t knead too much. Then, either make biscuits or a larger loaf, and bake it however you want to. It look really cool (and is a great kids’ activity in camp) when the dough is rolled around a stick and toasted over a campfire. Put peanut butter in the hole, and you have a delicious, warm sandwich.
Another recommended  idea is to amend the flour with one tablespoon of soy flour; one tablespoon of dried milk and one teaspoon of wheat germ per cup of white flour. This combination makes a complete protein of the flour, and turbocharges the nutritional value of the bread.
Here are a few Damper recipes that could work well in your survival kit:
Plain Damper
2 c self-rising flour (If you don’t have self-rising, add 1-1/2 tsp baking powder and 1/2 tsp salt to every cup of regular or
all-purpose flour)
2 tsp baking powder
pinch salt
Mix dry ingredients together first, then add water to make a soft dough. Knead until the dough sticks together, but not too long or the Damper will get tough. In a conventional oven bake at about 375 degrees about 20 minutes, or  until the edges start to brown.
Standard Damper
2 c self-rising flour
1/2 tsp salt
1-1-1/2 c milk
2 tsp butter
2 tsp sugar
Follow standard cooking directions.
A Damper camping recipe from Cheryl
  • 4 c self-rising flour
  • 1 1/2 c water
  • a pinch of salt
  • 2 Tbs butter
  • 1 tsp chives
  • 1 tsp crisp bacon, crumbled
  • 1 small onion
Rub the butter into the flour. Add salt. When it looks like crumbs, add water and the rest of the ingredients. Mix with a wooden spoon until it is a sticky dough. Turn out on to a floured board and mold into a round. Place in a well-greased cake tin and cut across to make 8 or 10 servings. Bake (at 35 degrees) for 20 minutes or it sounds hollow when you tap on it. Turn out and serve hot with butter. (Recipe courtesy of camping.)