Map, Compass & GPS

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

Friday, April 29, 2016

Petting a Bison

This link shows a woman petting a bison in Yellowstone National Park.

Not really the smartest thing to do.

The Fox News station reports that Bison can be incredibly dangerous.  This is true with just about all the large mammals in the park.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Baseline Navigation

Early in the morning the hunter hiked north from camp to Mahogany Butte.  With an hour of light left it was time to return.  He had his day pack with map and compass and he knew how to use them.  But he didn’t have a GPS.  The wooded terrain around him didn’t lend itself to triangulation with a compass.  So what was he to do?  If he was paying attention to his navigation before leaving camp at dawn he was all set.   All he needed to do was to return to the base line.

Returning to a baseline is a pretty straight forward concept.  The idea is that you leave camp from a known location and strike out in a specific direction such as North, or 000°.  When it is time to return aim to the left or right of camp (like 165°T), hit the logging road camp is on and turn right.  That is the concept but there is a bit more to it.

Let’s go over the tools you need and the process of how it works in more detail.
My recommendation is to first purchase a reliable compass that can be adjusted for declination. 
 A solid compass made by Suunto, Brunton (the 8010G) and Silva (the Ranger pictured above) are great choices.  Learn how to adjust the compass for the declination or your location.  (Note: declination is the difference between true north and magnetic north.  Declination for your area can be found at )   Note that some of the inexpensive compasses will indicate that it has declination marking/grid on the packaging.  You want a compass that can be mechanically adjusted.
If the sales clerks eyes glaze over you are in the wrong store.

The essence of back country navigation is to keep it simple.  If you are new to compass navigation, having a compass that can be adjusted keeps things simple.  Though the red magnetic needle still points to magnetic north, the rotating dial (that has been adjusted) now provides information in degrees true.  A compass that is aligned to degrees true now works well with the traditional topographic map that is oriented to degrees true as well.  Take a look at June Fleming’s book Staying Found or visit

The next tool is your map.  USGS topographic maps and National Geographic maps of the major national parks are great examples of what works well in the backcountry.  Let’s leave the Gazetteer or AAA roadmap at home.  I’ll carry a copy of the Forest Service or BLM map of the area too.

On the map, locate what will be the base line.  A baseline can be a road, river or trail.  Key to the selection is that you want a baseline of sufficient length.  It must also be obvious when you approach the baseline; it needs to be distinct.

For example, in the case of the hunter mentioned above, he would have potentially tragic consequences if he over shot his base line and just kept on walking.

So let’s take a look at a map and develop a baseline.

The red arrows on the map (to the left) point to a road.  This road travels in a general direction of Northwest – Southeast.  Further, the road travels for many miles in either direction.
Think of the baseline as a geographic boundary.  The baseline is designed to keep you within a specific area.

The map directly above is of the same location but it has been zoomed in for clarity.
Notice the location of camp to the east of the baseline; the road.

Also notice that the planned destination has been added.  The destination is to the Northeast of camp.  Roughly the destination bears 070°T (degrees true) from Camp.
The intent now is to travel from Camp to Destination.

Remember that the compass must be adjusted for declination.  In this location the declination is 16° east (below.)

At this point, adjust the compass such that the adjustable outer dial is rotated to 070°T (T for degrees true) and is aligned with the direction of travel arrow or index line.  After the dial is adjusted turn your body so that the magnetic needle rotates on top of the red baseplate
needle (engraved into the plastic of the baseplate (below.)

Now proceed towards the destination.  You have the option of looking down range in the direction of “Destination” or monitoring the compass the entire length of the hike; that is a bit tedious.

Note that in a hike such as this you are going to the general location of the area you want to be in.  If you decide to go to a specific, defined location you must triangulate to fix your position, use pace count or use a GPS.

Observe how the topographic contour lines (brown lines) in the center of the image are far apart which means that the land is somewhat flat.  The lines in the bottom left of the image begin to merge indicating a hill.

It is the return hike to camp that will take advantage of the baseline.

Rather than trying to go directly back to camp offset the direction of travel to the south. Roughly one will travel in a direction of 230°T.

The key point is that the hiker will knowingly head south of camp to intersect the baseline.
Of course the option of going north of camp on a direction of 280°T could be considered too.
Upon arriving at the baseline turn right and follow the road back to camp.
That’s it.
Remember the cautions mentioned earlier:
  1. The baseline must be of sufficient length.
  2. The baseline must be obvious when you reach it.  If you are in an area of multiple trails or logging road think carefully if your choice is going to work for you.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Emergency Preparedness During Pregnancy

 A new post from Lee.

Emergency Preparedness During Pregnancy 

There is no event more joyous than having a baby. The changes news of a baby bring to your psyche, your home, your heart, and your body announce that something amazing is getting ready to happen. Carl Sandburg wrote that "a baby is God's opinion that life should go." Allowing that life to go on requires that parents be vigilant and responsible. 

An emergency is a sudden unexpected occurrence that requires immediate action. An emergency can have a devastating impact on the life and development of our most vulnerable citizens: the elderly, pregnant women, and young babies. Conscientious parents realize it is never too soon to establish a plan that addresses emergencies.  

Emergency Preparation 

A major concern during an emergency whether natural or man-made, is the availability of food. No time is that more important than when a woman is pregnant or has a new baby to feed. What and when we will eat determines who survives.  

Emergencies place everyone involved in a survival mode. Being pregnant is no different. The uncertainty of our times suggest that it is wise to prepare for the unimaginable before it arrives at your door. In the case of flooding a strong waterproof container should be used to store food items that might be needed. Water, can goods, sanitizers, and some clothing should be stored in a high dry place. Everyone should know where the container is located.  

If the disaster requires an evacuation from the home, your car becomes part of your emergency preparedness. Again a durable waterproof bin that will fit comfortably in your trunk should be filled with water, clothing, sanitizers, covering such as thick fleece fabric, that will keep babies, pregnant women, and other family members safe and warm.  

Emergency food storage preparation is obviously going to be handled differently when a young baby is involved. Where adults and young children can survive for a couple of days without water, a baby cannot. Babies will become sick very quickly without the proper food. Having an emergency plan for your baby is vitally important. A baby that feeds exclusively at its mother's breast will fare better during an emergency. The mother doesn't need to store supplies of baby food because breast milk supplies all of the fluids and nutrients a baby needs. If there is enough warning, breast milk could be pumped and put on ice for later use. Its short shelf life prevents getting enough milk for long term usage. Therefore, included in the storage bin containing food one would need canned formula and water that would be used only for the baby.

 Having a baby is a joyous experience that everyone should live through at least once. Babies are a great responsibility. With them one has to plan for the good as well as the bad so best practice is to always be prepared.

Lee Flynn is a freelance writer. Through small local workshops and articles, Lee trains and teaches others on home preparation, healthy living, food storage techniques, and self reliance.

Click for his  Google+

Compass Accuracy

Many things can affect the operation of a compass.

 Keep ferrous objects away from the compass body. 

I went to the U.S. Army's manual on Map Reading and Land Navigation verify  this issue.

The manual stated:

"Metal objects and electrical sources can affect the performance of a compass.  However, nonmagnetic metals and alloys do not affect compasses readings.  The following separations distances are suggested to ensure proper functions of a compass:

          High-tension power lines .........................................55 meters
          Field gun, truck or tank.............................................18 meters
          Telegraph or telephone wires and barbed wires .....10 meters
          Rifle ..........................................................................1/2 meter"

I would offer that a compass should be protected from some electronic/electric equipment such as flash lights and GPS receivers.


Evaluating Back-Up Magnetic Compasses

Frequently in my backcountry land navigation class, I am asked about the need to carry a back-up compass.  Generally students are interested in a light weight model that is low in cost, small in size, and would “fill in” as needed. 

I purposefully evaluated several models many consider to be back-up options.  When choosing a back-up magnetic compass, the hiker must ask himself “What are my priorities?  Is it accuracy? Reliability?  Cost?  Size and weight?”

Different models bring different values to the outdoorsman.   If the primary compass got crushed, misplaced, or stopped working what model would serve as a back-up to get out of the woods safely?  Generally a back-up compass isn’t as capable as the primary.  People want to cut back on weight and expense.
For this evaluation, I selected five commonly used compass models.  They are: the Brunton 9020G, a wrist watch compass “The Navigator” (sold by Country Comm), the Silva Type 3, the Silva Type 7, and a ball compass by Outdoor Product (not Outdoor Research.)
 I will compare the five selected back-up units to the highly regarded Silva Ranger (CL 515) and Brunton 8010G base plate compasses to establish a bearing standard. The Silva ranger and 8010G models are oriented to magnetic north as shown below:

Figure 1   The Silva Ranger (left) and the Brunton 8010G (right.)

Neither the Silva Ranger nor Brunton 8010G are adjusted for declination for this review.   This provides a consistent baseline for evaluation purposes. 

To begin the comparison of the back-up compass models, I chose to define them in the categories of (1) reliability (2) accuracy and readability (3) cost and (4) size and weight.

I picked up each back-up compass model option and turned it in place rotating the compass and magnetic needle.   I then stopped and set it on a flat surface oriented to magnetic north.  I quickly found that the Brunton 9020G, and the Silva type 3 and 7 settled quickly and matched the bearing of the standards.  The compass needles quickly aligned to magnetic north and required little movement on my part to stabilize the compass.

The ball and wristwatch compasses were extremely finicky.  Both models required time and manipulation (moving the compass housing side to side, up and down) to get them to align to magnetic north.  Both required what I consider to be excessive movement to level the housing to allow the needle or ball to swing freely.  This was especially true of the ball compass; frustrating.

Figure 2 Compasses from left to right: The Brunton 9010G, The Navigator, Outdoor Product ball compass, Silva type 7 and type 3.  Note that the five compasses close proximity to each other cause the magnetic needles pointing in different directions.

Accuracy and readability:

I then checked the compasses for their alignment to magnetic north.  All models were in general agreement but the three baseplate compasses ( Brunton 9020G, Silva Type 3, Silva Type 7) allowed for a more accurate reading with 2° increments marked on the rotating dial.  Further, each baseplate compass could be used for sighting on a distant object to triangulate the hiker’s position.

The ball compass and the watch compass did not provide for accurate measurement; they just aren't built for that.  The Navigator has increment tick marks every 10° and the ball compass is marked every 15°.  That said, both will provide a trend of direction. Knowingly choosing a trend of direction verses specific bearing accuracy is a critical choice for the outdoorsman when selecting a back-up compass model.  The impact of providing a trend of direction is that these compasses will indicate that the hiker is moving in a generally northerly direction as opposed to hiking along a bearing of 350°.


The most affordable are the ball compass ($2.00) and the Navigator (under $5.00).  The three baseplate models range from $10 to $12.

Size and Weight: 

The wrist watch Navigator is the most compact and is read quickly.  Having a compass on the wrist takes a bit getting used to; it’s just different.  The ball compass is most frequently worn on the exterior of a jacket or on a pack’s web gear.  Both are quickly accessible and are feather light.  

The Brunton 9020G is the largest of the group.  That said, all three baseplate compasses fit easily in a shirt pocket.

Size and weight is of minimal concern for all five models.

The ball compass and Navigator are fine for short day hikes.  Both are good choices as an introductory model and get young people interested in navigation early.

For serious backcountry adventures I’d opt for one of the baseplate models.  The 9020G ability to adjust for declination is a big plus for me.  The baseplate models are the natural progression for learning the finer points of compass navigation.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Topo Maps - Bench Marks

When looking at a US Geologic Survey (USGS) map the hiker will find benchmark symbols sprinkled across the topo.  Benchmark and the many other symbols provide the details of a map.  Symbols represent features such as mines, bridges, dams and many more items.  To see a complete look at symbols visit the USGS site for more information.

Figure 1 Symbol examples from the USGS Topo Map Symbols web page.

Figure 2  Benchmarks on a topographic map.

A benchmark is control point on the map.  Control points are positions of accurate measurement in terms of elevation and position (latitude and longitude.)  Benchmarks are also known informally as “survey markers.”  Originally, these markers were used in land surveying and by civil engineers for construction purposes.  Benchmarks help to accurately determine location.

From’s frequently asked questions: 

“A benchmark, abbreviated "BM," is a location whose elevation and horizontal position has been surveyed as accurately as possible. Benchmarks are designed for use as reference points, and are usually marked by small brass plates.”

Occasionally a hiker will find a benchmark plate in the backcountry.  The image below is an example of the brass plate.  These plates should not be tampered with and are not souvenirs to be taken home.

Figure 3  Brass benchmark found in the backcountry.

Note the elevation data found in the center of the plate.  Importantly, elevation is measured in feet above sea level and not in relation to the adjacent topography. reports that over 740,000 benchmarks are dispersed around the United States.

Though elevation data is provided on the map, coordinate information (e.g., latitude and longitude, UTM) is not.  It’s is up to the hiker to interpolate and determine the information through the use of a map tool.

Remember that the coordinate data provided on a topographic map is in degrees, minutes and seconds (GPS menu settings format: dd mm ss.s) while a new GPS is set at the factory to degrees minutes.minutes (GPS menu settings format: dd mm.m.)

Finding a benchmark can confirm your position on the map. 

To improve you GPS skill level try “Benchmarking,” an activity similar to geocaching.  The objective is to find the brass plates in the field.  For more information visit Geocach.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The Ten Essentials

On a warm afternoon in July, a family leaves a trail head with the goal of summitting the South Sister Mountain in Central Oregon.  It was a rough hike as they took a path not frequently traveled.  By evening it became obvious that this group would not make it to the summit and the glacier they were attempting to cross was icing up; it just wasn’t safe to press on.  911 was called and a local SAR team reached them after midnight.  The temperature on the glacier was quickly dropping below 40° (F) and the hikers were getting cold.

When the SAR team reached them, they found that the group had some food and water but no other gear.  The hikers’ clothing selection was questionable too.

What is the right stuff to carry in the outdoors?  What is the minimum?  What should you consider before hitting the trail?

A climbing group in the 1930's, The Mountaineers from Seattle authored the “Ten Essentials” describing ten items that should be carried in the back country. 

“The Ten Essentials” has been modified by different groups over the years.  The following is the list that REI recommends:

  1. Navigation
  2. Sun protection
  3. Insulation (extra clothing)
  4. Illumination
  5. First-aid supplies
  6. Fire starter
  7. Repair kit and tools
  8. Nutrition (extra food)
  9. Hydration (extra water)
  10. Emergency shelter

This is the minimum that one should carry.  It is a starting point.

For a more detailed look at what should go into your survival kit take a look at “Build the Perfect Survival Kit” by John D. McCann.  This book evaluates equipment and provides suggestions for kit components based on your outdoor needs.  For example, he has check lists for the day hiker and expands that to the deep woods trekker or SAR team member.
Now that you have the gear, what should you consider as you head in to the back country?

I was searching the Internet last year looking for other suggestions on wilderness travel planning.  I came across a web site hosted in Norway.  I read that after a series of accidents and 18 deaths on Easter 1967, the Norwegian Red Cross and Norwegian Mountain Touring authored what is known as the Norwegian Mountain Code.  (To find this information in detail, Google search on “the Norwegian Mountain Code.”)

The basic elements of the code are (and I am quoting from the site):

  1. Be prepared -Be sufficiently experienced, fit and equipped for your intended trip.
  2. Leave word of your route – Tell a responsible person your travel plan. (See the recommended Hikers Trip Plan at    click on links.”)
  3. Be weather-wise - An old adage advises that you should always be alert to forecasts of bad weather, yet not rely completely on forecasts of good weather.
  4. Be equipped for bad weather and frost. - Always take a rucksack and proper mountain gear. Put on more clothing if you see approaching bad weather or if the temperature drops.
  5. Learn from the locals.
  6. Use a map and compass.  Take a GPS too.
  7. Do not go solo. - If you venture out alone, there is nobody to give you first aid or notify a rescue service in an emergency.
  8. Turn back in time - sensible retreat is no disgrace. - If conditions deteriorate so much that you doubt you can attain your goal, turn around and return.
  9. Conserve energy and build a snow shelter if necessary.. 

The Scouts got it right – be prepared.