Map, Compass & GPS

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

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Sectionhiker.com is web site that I keep my eye on regularly.  The comments section of this excellent source routinely has truely relevent information as well; that is a rareity on most sites.  In an older post about the "Ten Essentials" a reader's comment was:


" Map or at least a good look of the lay of the land to identify a few good backstops in case I get really turned around (mostly only for well marked trails.)" comment by Jess, March 15, 2012.

Jess' comment caused me to write the following post.

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A backstop keeps the hiker safe.  By using a natural and man made land features, a backstop keep the hiker in the right area.  Backstops are found by a careful study of a topographic map. 

One feature every outdoorsman should pay attention to is called a “backstop.”   A  backstop is a boundary or a natural barrier that keeps one in their specified hiking area.  If a hiker goes beyond the backstop, then they will know they have gone too far.

When looking over a map of a hiking area, it is essential to understand the impact of terrain and land features.  Doing so will allow one to build an association of topography with a general lay of the land.  Key on natural and man-made features that includes roads, streams, buttes and buildings.  Take the time to really examine the map’s topography by studying the brown contour lines. This attention to detail will give the hiker a “feel” for elevation changes, shape and important land marks.  More importantly, it will allow the hiker to develop a mental map of the hiking area.  This concept lends itself to map training for those not backcountry experienced, and it is an excellent  teaching tool for children.



For example, in the image above ForestRd 32 serves as a backstop.  The hiker should remain west of ForestRd 32 because traveling east of 32 is hazardous due to the Swamp. Additionally, note that key terrain features associated with the trail include the river, mountains, a road and the swamp.


The example above is very simplistic but demonstrates the importance of having that “mental map”, especially if visibility becomes an issue.



The image above offers another example.

The map above is an area of steep terrain to the west, a lake to the east and trails surrounding most land features.  If the hiker planned to bushwack west of the campground (just below the larger lake) and hike in fairly flat terrain with gentle elevation changes, then the steep terrain to the west (Tam McArthur Rim) would be an excellent backstop. This is because it provides confirmation of the hiker’s general location. Care should be taken when using  trails that border Little Three Creek lake-note that the trail doesn’t continue west.  In such a situation, it is possible for the hiker to walk beyond the lake.


Backstops are another navigation tool that can keep the hiker in a safe location, and should be utilized as a visual resource.




Tips On Traveling to Canada

A guest post from our frequent contributor Lee.

If you are thinking about taking a trip to the Great White North, you probably want to make sure that you are as prepared as possible. Canada can be a great country to visit, but there are a few things that you may want to do before you take your trip. These are five suggestions that can help you get your trip started off right.

1. Find Out About Getting a Visa

First of all, it is important to make sure that you are able to legally enter Canada. You will need a passport, for one thing. You may also need to get a visa, depending on where you are traveling from. It's smart to look into these things beforehand; then, you can help ensure that your trip doesn't get ruined due to not being able to enter the country in the first place.

2. Make Sure You Have the Right Clothing

It is important to make sure that you dress appropriately for your trip to Canada. If you are going to be visiting during the winter, you should know that many areas of the country can be very cold. Therefore, you will definitely want to make sure that you pack accordingly. In the summer months, however, some areas of Canada are actually quite warm, so you may want to pack shorts and T-shirts. Consider checking the weather forecast for the area that you are visiting so that you can get an idea of what to pack.

3. Ensure Your Car is Prepared for the Trip

If you are going to be driving to Canada, you will definitely want to make sure that your car is ready for the trip. Of course, you'll need to handle the same basics that you would handle for any road trip, such as getting your oil changed and making sure that your brakes are in good condition. If you are going to be visiting Canada in the winter, you may want to invest in a good set of snow tires or chains for your tires. This can help you ensure that you are able to drive in the winter weather conditions as safely as possible. Additionally, you'll want to do your research about any roads that you will be traveling on to ensure that they are safe before driving.

4. Purchase Travel Insurance

It is always a good idea to purchase travel insurance, and it may be something that you will want to consider for your trip to Canada. Then, if you have an emergency, be it a car accident or a sudden intense toothache, you could get your car taken care of or visit Emergency Dentist Calgary without worrying about being covered or not. Knowing that you have this coverage can also give you peace of mind so that you can focus on enjoying yourself while you are on your trip.

5. Make an Itinerary Beforehand

There is a lot to see and do in Canada. If you travel without any plans in mind, then you might miss out on some the good things. Therefore, it's a good idea for you to consider doing your research so that you can make an itinerary beforehand. For example, you may want to go skiing or check out one of the beautiful national parks. There is something for just about anyone to enjoy in Canada, so you should be able to come up with an itinerary that will work for you and your traveling companions if you do a little bit of research.

As you can see, if you are planning on visiting Canada sometime soon, there are a few things that you can do to help you ensure that you are prepared for your trip. If you follow these tips, you can help ensure that you and your family have a great time. Then, you might just find that Canada is one of your new favorite vacation destinations.


Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Night Navigation

What should the hiker consider regarding hiking and navigating at night?

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 about hiking and navigating at night:
  • 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.  Practice your navigation at a local park with map and compass.  Consider geocaching to improve your GPS skills. 

It just gets down to being careful when hiking and navigating at night.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Finding North

 I randomly pulled a book from my outdoor library and found a section on back country travel and survival.   My book was printed in the late 1950's.  To say Tt was dated is obvious.

I skimmed through the navigation section and began to read about determining True North (000 degrees).

The chapterI soon began a discussion of using the north star to find True North.  Nice idea but finding True North is a challenge.  The north star doesn't stand out as some material would have your think.  Weather can have a huge impact on locating that star.

My reference talks about determining declination by comparing magnetic north with the bearing of the north pole.

Interesting idea but it's a bit tedious.

Let's keep this simple.

First, lets start with a quality adjustable magnetic compass.  I'd suggest that the hiker consider the Silva Ranger 5/15 or one similar by Brunton or Suunto.  These are frequently found at REI, Cabala's and Sportsman's Warehouse.




Second, determine the coordinates of the area that that one will travel through.

Third, visit www.magnetic-decllination .com.  The hiker will find lot of options but the key thing one is looking for is the declination of the area to be traveled through. One can enter Latitude an Longitude of the area or a noun name like Bend, Oregon.

Read the compass manufacturer's instruction  and adjust the compass as directed to find north.

Take a look at my post about buying a compass    .Buying a Compass





Sunday, December 10, 2017

Life Benefits of Getting Fresh Air

Guest Contributor Lee has a new post on fresh air:
Do you make it a priority to get outside every day? You might after you read this article. People do all kinds of things in the name of their health and well-being, like taking supplements, trying new diets, and going on expensive retreats. But if you want better health and a more optimistic outlook on life, the solution might be much simpler than all those things: just go outside and breathe some fresh, clean air.

Intrigued? Here are five reasons why fresh air might just be the best medicine available to you.

1. Getting outside gives your immune system a boost.
If you want to stay healthy, you've got to take care of your immune system. Your immune system fights off invading bacteria and viruses, protecting you from everything from the common cold to stomach flu. There are a number of ways you can keep your immune system in tip-top condition, including eating a healthy diet with plenty of vegetables and fruits, getting enough sleep, and washing your hands regularly. But the simplest thing of all you can do? Just step outside and take a quick walk around the block. The combination of oxygen and exercise will boost your white blood cell levels, helping you fight off infections before they even get a foothold in your body.

2. Fresh air helps you stay alert.
Feeling sleepy after lunch? Don't reach for that energy drink or third cup of coffee. Take a minute to step outside instead. Fresh air has a way of clearing your head and boosting your alertness. It can even make you more creative. As a result, your thinking will become clearer and sharper at school or on the job, no caffeine required.

3. Spending time in the sunlight increases your vitamin D levels.
Did you know that many people are vitamin D deficient, even though this essential nutrient is plentiful and free? That's right - we can get vitamin D from the sun, but lots of office workers, students, and other people who spend most of their time inside still don't get enough of it. You can boost your vitamin D levels - thereby improving your mental health, bone health, and cardiovascular health - by spending as little as fifteen minutes outside on sunny days. Wear short sleeves if it's warm enough, so your skin can soak up as much sunlight as possible. Just don't forget to put on sunscreen after fifteen minutes!

4. Fresh air makes you happier and less stressed.
If your mood has been down in the dumps lately, it could be because you've been spending too time breathing stale air indoors. People tend to be happiest and healthiest when they're getting regular doses of fresh air and sunshine. In fact, wilderness therapy has been found to be a potent antidepressant - people actually have lower rates of mental health problems like depression and anxiety when they spend regular time outside in nature. The great outdoors also has a soothing effect on stress, so if you've been under pressure lately, a few deep breaths of fresh, clean air could be just what you need.

5. Unpolluted air improves your overall health.
Breathing in pollution isn't good for you - everybody knows that. People who live in areas with lots of pollution are more likely to deal with asthma, digestive problems, and cardiovascular problems like high blood pressure than people who live in less-polluted areas. Breathing clean air has the opposite effect: it supplies your body with plenty of oxygen, improves your lung capacity, and makes it easier for your heart to do its job. If you live in a big city with a pollution problem, do your best to visit green spaces like parks frequently, since trees purify the air.

The Takeaway
Fresh air does a body good. If you haven't been getting your daily dose of fresh air, establish a new habit of going outside frequently. You'll likely become happier and healthier as a result.



Monday, November 27, 2017

Compass Navigation - Using A Compass


 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.

   

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 (AOL.com) 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