Map, Compass & GPS

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

Saturday, November 11, 2017

SPOT Messenger

I always take my SPOT messenger and cell phone with me when I head out to the backcountry; it's part of my ten essentials.

On a recent trip I sent three "I'm OK" status messages.  My first message was sent at 0900,
then 0915 and a third at about 1000.

I always send at least two messages to my family.  I am on the check in list too just to verify my unit is working.

I found that one message was received at  roughly 1020 but nothing else.

When I returned home one message (one of three) was received at 1600.  The last message was received the next afternoon.  This is the first time that I have had such time late message reception.

I called the manufacturer to sort out what happened.

Most importantly learned that the satellite service for SPOT was degraded that day.

I also learned that the internet provider ( was having technical issues receiving and processing SPOT messages.  I then put my .gmail account as an authorized service.

I tested  the messenger from home and received my transmitted data almost immediately.

The manufacturers customer service was excellent.  All my questions were answered. 

For more information and suggestions for using your messenger visit:SPOT Tips

Friday, November 10, 2017


 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.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

A Compass Tune-Up

Recently I was watching a rifle expert on one of the many outdoor cable shows.   This gent is a noted ballistics expert, writer and occasional backcountry guide.  During a segment of the interview he was demonstrating what was in his day pack.  It kept my interest, had the
Compass practice in a navigation class
 Outdoor Quest image
ten essentials, and all was going just fine until he brought out his compass.  It looked like a wonderful antique, might have come across the Great Plains and Rockies with Lewis and Clark –but in terms of reliability-it was questionable. The sad part is he spent absolutely no time discussing key factors of having a reliable compass.  He touched his compass and quickly put it down. 

And touching a compass is about all that most people do too.  Hunters preparing to go afield will spend hours with their rifle at the range evaluating their zero, adjusting optics, and measuring the initial velocity of that hot new round.  Navigation takes time to get dialed in too.

Navigation is not “rocket science” but it takes practice.  It is a perishable skill.  The analogy that I use in my wilderness navigation classes is that you can hop on a bike after not riding one for ten years and head on down the road.  But trying to triangulate after ten months can be a chore.

 For starters, you need a decent compass.  Leave the $5.00 compass on the shelf at the store.  For more information on buying a compass check out my article on selecting a compass.

Here are a few recommendations for a compass tune up:

·     Store your compass in a safe spot.  Keep the compass off the dash of the rig, away from flashlights and the GPS.  Let’s not take a chance that an electrically induced magnetic field will degrade your compass.

·     Compare your compass with another to verify that the red needle is pointing to magnetic north.   Take it a step further and find a road in town that is aligned north/south.   Most likely it will be aligned in degrees true; as in true north.  Again, verify that the compass is pointing correctly.  Do this for every compass you own.

·     Is the compass leaking?  Is there an air bubble floating in the compass housing?  I “deep six” (toss) those units.

·     Brush up on your compass navigation skills.   June Fleming’s book “Staying Found” is a excellent read.     Practice shooting a bearing, triangulating your position and orienting your map and compass to your surroundings.

·     Review the components of a Topographic map.  Start with the USGS’ site here.

·     Insure you have the compass adjusted to the correct declination.

·     Practice with your children.  Give them a good education with a map and compass before you give them a GPS.

·     Don’t depend on your friends being the navigation experts.  Make it a goal to exceed their skills.  You might find that your initial impression was mistaken. Instead of a “sense of direction” develop the skill of navigation.

Practice with a compass is essential to safe wilderness travel.  To quote Fleming, “The key to knowing where you are is constant awareness.”

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Maps for Emergency Evacuation

My friend Leon at the blog has a great post on the maps you should have during emergency evacuation

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Adventures In Stoving

You have to just like Hiking Jim's blog "Adventures in Stoving."  This is a blog to book mark.

Right now he a has a post reviewing a stove system and a methodology on how to determine how much stove fuel to take in to the back country.

Great  work.

Adventure In Stoving Image.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Using Your Cell Phone In The Backcountry

Last month Jenny Rough wrote an interesting article about why it is a mistake to count  on a cell phone when you go hiking.  Her article was featured in the Washington Post.

She stressed that basic navigation "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:

Sunday, October 1, 2017

What Is An Azimuth

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.