Map, Compass & GPS

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

Monday, June 27, 2016

Smartphone Navigation Apps

It's common in my navigation classes to be asked - what is better, a standalone GPS
receiver (such as a Garmin 64) or smartphone navigation apps?

Philip Werner's blog has a fine post that takes a look at what hikers are using on the trail for backcountry navigation. His post offers a survey of what is most common in the hiking community.

I was gratified to see that a large majority use a traditional paper map and compass.

Smartphone navigation App use is large and from my perspective getting larger.

Thoughtfully, Mr. Werner provides a nice listing of popular smartphone navigation app.

Personally, I'll stick with my waterproof and reliable Garmin 64s.

Considerations When Buying a GPS -

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Navigation Book to Read

Recently, one of my students showed me a book by Greg Davenport. This was a new one for me.   Davenport's book Advanced Outdoor Navigation is a great read.

This book is very detailed and is an excellent resource for the backcountry navigator.  I found a copy on Amazon.  My copy was printed in 2006.  The GPS section needs to be brought up to date.  

I wish it was still in print as I'd use it as the required reading material in my next class.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Wilderness Survival: You're Lost

I came across Ryan Tipps' post on Outdoorhub today.  This material can not be repeated often enough.
"Face it – getting lost happens to the best of us. Maybe you were tracking an injured buck too long; maybe the batteries on your GPS gave out; or maybe you hadn’t brushed up on your map and compass skills like you planned. Bottom line: You are where you are – wherever that may be."

Sunday, May 29, 2016

The Best Ways to Cut Weight for a Backpacking Trip

This post was written by guest author Rhett.
Backpacking can be a great way to experience the beauty of nature and get away from the
chaos of everyday life. However, if you find yourself weighted down with a pack full of heavy equipment, you may have a hard time enjoying the journey. You will find that you can still carry everything you need down to your camo wallet and be lightweight enough to hike with ease. Here are 4 practical ways to cut weight for your next backpacking trip.
What you wear while you hike can make a big difference in the overall weight you are carrying. The most important place to cut weight with your clothing is your hiking boots. Heavy boots will weigh you down, creating greater fatigue in your knees and legs with every step.
Look for comfortable, durable, lightweight hiking boots. Try them on before purchasing to be sure they fit your feet well. If you have to purchase boots online, check the weight specs so you can tell if the boots you are ordering are truly lightweight.
Pants, shirts, and socks should also be lightweight. Clothing made of breathable, synthetic materials can provide extra comfort as they often wick moisture away from your body. Try to avoid cotton as it is bulky, relatively heavy, and absorbs sweat. While these pieces of clothing are not going to make as big of a difference as your hiking boots, cutting their bulk and weight will still make hiking easier.
The heaviest piece of equipment you will have is your tent. You can cut weight here by purchasing a lightweight tent or if you can't purchase a new tent, check the weather before you leave. If there is no chance of rain, you may be able to leave the rain fly at home. However, you do risk getting caught in an unexpected storm.
Another possibility is to bring a ground cover and/or tarp to create a shelter that allows you to sleep under the stars. In this case, you lose the weight of tent poles, rain fly, and ground cover. Be sure to practice making your shelter before you go so that you are prepared to set it up.
Food makes up another significant portion of the weight that you carry. Replace your food with freeze dried meals because they are lightweight and easy to prepare. These meals have zero moisture, which means you are carrying only the essential nutrients. As long as you have access to enough water on the trip, you will have all the food that you need. Along with your food, a small, simple way to cut weight is to use plastic eating utensils. A plastic fork, spoon, knife, and plate eliminate the extra weight of silverware.
Use Items for Multiple Purposes
You can cut weight without having to invest in more lightweight gear by rethinking what you are already taking with you. For example, instead of packing a pillow, stuff your extra pants and shirt inside your coat or sweatshirt and use it as a pillow. Instead of packing pajamas, either sleep in your clean clothes and wear them the next day or sleep in your dirty clothes and put on your clean clothes in the morning.
Backpack with the Essentials
As you take the time to go through your backpacking equipment and clothing, you will start to find the items that can be purchased in a lightweight or smaller version. After going through those items, creative thinking will help you to reach the pack weight that you want. Once you've gone lightweight, you'll be able to enjoy your trip more fully.

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.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Improving GPS Accuracy

There are only a few things the hiker can do to improve GPS accuracy.
The first step is to go to the Satellite Information page.  Ideally at least 4 of the green icons will be displayed.  The green icons represent satellites being tracked.  It is critical to have no less than 4 satellites for GPS accuracy. 
Next, make sure that the receiver is not in the DEMO mode.  In DEMO mode no satellites will be tracked.  To regain GPS accuracy go to the main menu>select SETUP>select SYSTEM>select GPS; see below.
Once the GPS receiver is correctly set up the hiker will begin to track satellites almost immediately.
To further improve GPS accuracy insure the Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS) option is enabled.  WAAS will improve accuracy to +/- 3 meters.  WAAS can be enabled from the same screen that DEMO was removed.  Notice the letter D on the satellite information page indicating signal reception; see the image below.
If the WAAS correction can’t be received the GPS will be accurate to +/- 15 meters.

More informaition relating to GPS Accuracy.

Monday, May 23, 2016

GPS Accuracy

Are you comfortable with the accuracy of your GPS receiver?  
The package says that your Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver is accurate to +/- 15 meters and some advertise +/- 3 meters.  Just what does that mean to you?
Accuracy depends on several things, most of which are beyond your control.  For example, it is reasonable to expect a new GPS with the latest antenna, circuitry, processor capability and memory technology will perform better than one made in 2005.  The number of satellites signals a receiver acquires helps too; you’ll need at least four.
The graphic below tells an interesting story.  Through the center of the topographic map, marked with dashed lines is the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) in Oregon’s Cascades mountain range.  Next to the trail is my track log (in red) downloaded from my GPS to my Terrain Navigator software.  The track log is my electronic path calculated by the receiver.
I walked on the PCT the entire time.

  My GPS receiver was in a holster attached to the shoulder straps of my backpack.  The receiver’s antenna was exposed but only received data from my front and straight up, my chest blocked signals from behind my back.

As the green of the map indicates I was in a forested area. Tree canopy was moderately thick and may have interfered with signal reception.

Further, I was on the move the entire time, stopping only occasionally.
Obviously, there is a distinct difference between the map and the track log. 

To improve the accuracy of my track information I could do three things.  First, I would have removed the receiver from the holster.  Second, I could have moved into an area clear of forest canopy. Third, I would give the GPS time to develop good satellite tracking information.

I have found that with older receivers moving out from underneath canopy and giving the unit time to calculate position data is extremely important.  A new Garmin 62 might have accurate position information in less than 20 seconds while an older Garmin Map60CS might take a minute.

Many people tend to think that a GPS receiver pinpoints their position exactly where they are standing all the time.  A hiker’s position is within the diameter of the specifications of the model.  If a receiver is accurate to +/- 15 meters (a radius) the unit’s calculated position will be somewhere inside the 30 meter diameter of a circle.  The accuracy could improve. 
In my GPS classes I recommend to my students to consider that they are traveling down a lane in the backcountry.  The size and width of the lane might grow or shrink depending on the number of satellites received and if terrain is blocking signals.

Test your receiver’s accuracy at home.

Find a quiet street or side walk to view how position accuracy changes.  Ideally it will be oriented true north and south.  Using your GPS receiver and compass, walk true north and look at your latitude and longitude.  Because lines of longitude are also oriented true north and south that data shouldn’t change.  Walk about 100 yards; again going true north.  Observe how much the longitude coordinates change.  Maneuver to stay on the original longitude and see how far off you’ll have to wander from your planned track.

Read more about GPS receivers. and their accuracy.accuracyl

Friday, May 20, 2016


In a previous post I discussed the concept of terrain association.  Terrain association is the process of visually confirming a map to land features.

A subset of terrain association is the use of handrails.  Handrails are linear features found on a map and visually correlated to observed land features.  As in a building, a stairway’s handrail provides direction for a walkers travel down to another level.

Examples of handrails include roads, rivers, trails and railroad beds.  Handrails can be particularly useful when they run parallel to ones’ direction of travel.

Highway 126 and Cache Creek are distinct linear features that could serve as a handrail.
In the map above notice that the red direction of travel line parallels Highway 126. 

In this example Highway 126 could also be a backstop to alert the hiker that crossing the roadway would take them in the wrong direction.

Be alert for a handrail’s change of direction.  There may be prominent land features that will alert the backcountry traveler to such a change.  A butte or building might be adjacent or near to a change in direction.