Map, Compass & GPS

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

Sunday, October 19, 2014

New Web Site

I left my old web host and have migrated from a 10 year old micro soft office product to Word Press.

Please take a look a and let me know what you think.  Please post your comments on this blog.

Thank you

Friday, October 17, 2014

Backcountry Travel Off The Beaten Path

I just finished teaching a land navigation class at the local community college.  I had lots of questions about hiking off the beaten path; bushwacking through the backcountry. 

I paused my presentation to capture the moment by engaging the students in what their key considerations and thoughts were.  Here is a round up of some of what we talked about and some of the recommendations made by the group:

  • Off trail hiking preparation starts at home.  This is the time to review maps of the area paying particular attention to terrain, landmarks, water ways and potential hazards along the way.  Even though the hiker might be bushwacking trail guide books might have some good info of the area.

  • Maps are prepared and stored in a zip lock bag or map case.

  • The hiking party needs to ensure that their navigation equipment is all set up  such that every one is on the same page.  Compasses should be adjusted for declination, GPS receiver set-up options (coordinate system, map datum, north reference) should all match.

  • I like to consider that hiking has the apects of a team effort.  We work and stay together during the hike.  This isn't the time to hike alone.

  • When going off trail save the point of departure as a waypoint on the GPS receiver and give the waypoint a name.  Mark that position on the map too.  Mark a waypoint at key crossings abd course changes.  Those new to GPS should mark frequently to develo the muscle memory. 

  • Topo maps provide a general description of the area through the use of colors, symbols and contour lines.  I like to evaluate and orient my map during breaks and keep my position data current.  Terrain association plays a big part.    Maps could be updated with position data during breaks, stops for lunch or when ever it just makes sense.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

A Hiker's Clothing Base Layer

Fall is here and people are searching for information about selecting the right base layer clothing for backcountry travel; underwear for the hiker.  There are lots of options and some aren't worth your time or money.  

In late November 2013 my local newspaper, the Bend Bulletin (Bend, Oregon) published a supplementary insert called the High Desert Pulse.  On page 28 there was a superb article by Elise Gross titled “Cover Your Bases.”

A base layer is the garment worn closest to the skin.  In the past, most outdoorsmen thought of a base layer as a simple set of “long johns.”  The days of cotton long johns are fading.  Cotton clothing retains moisture and in winter provides no insulation when wet. 

 Ms. Gross provided a fine discussion of the options of the various base layer choices available to the hiker.

She states:

“.. Your activity level and the temperature should be taken into account when choosing a base layer.”

“Fabric type should also be considered.  Base layers are made of a variety of fabrics with unique properties.”

The following is a brief synopsis of what is available.

·         Wool - Merino wool is at the top of my list.  Merino is soft and doesn’t irritate the skin.  Smart Wool is my favorite.  Wool works well in mild to cold temps.  Wool wicks sweat away from the skin.  It dries relatively quickly.  Wool is antibacterial so it doesn’t start to smell over time as silk and poly does.  It’s expensive.

·         Silk – Silk that has been modified to improve wicking is a fine choice (untreated silk absorbs and retains moisture).  Silk works well during periods of heavy physical exertion.  Though it can get too warm, silk works well in cold climates.  Silk takes longer to dry than wool or polyester.  Silk can get stinky so launder after use.

·         Synthetics – These are popular big sellers and big advertisers in outdoor magazines (e.g., Under Amour).  Synthetics are fine in moderate temperatures.  Wet material close to the skin may be chilly until dry.  Moisture wicking is excellent; that’s the big plus.  Synthetics dry faster than any other base layer material.  Synthetics can get stinky so launder after each use.  

All products mentioned are light and take up little space.
Consider carrying an extra top to keep the hiker dry and warm. 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

CALTOPO - Free Mapping Software

This post is about a relatively new mapping program for hikers and hunters.  

I met the software devloper late last month at the Pacific Northwest SARCON held near Portland Oregon.  Matt  Jacobs has developed a very sophisticated and robust program.  It is FREE.

The post below is straight from' s Philip Werner.

I started using to plan and document all of my hikes and backpacking trips about a year ago after my friend Matt (Matt’s Hikes) recommended it on the approach hike to Peak Above the Nubble. Matt raved about Caltopo’s ability to print out custom maps using the 1:24000 USGS scale – which are excellent for carrying on off-trail hikes. The printing capabilities in Caltopo really are fabulous, but there’s so much more to this program that I’m surprised that more people don’t know about it.
First off, is free to use. It supports many of the capabilities of desktop topographical mapping software but it’s online so you can access it anywhere and share it with other people. 
Go here to read the rest of Philip's post.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Tips on Getting Accurate Compass Readings - Part 1

 The following  suggestions on getting accurate compass readings is from Basic Land Navigation (by the National Wildfire Coordination Group.)

Tips on Getting Accurate Compass Readings

A small error when using a compass can result in a significant error in measurement on the ground.

To obtain accurate readings when using a compass:

  • ·          Hold the compass level and steady so the needle swings freely.

  • ·         Hold the compass about waist high in front of the body, except when using a compass with a sighting mirror or a sighting type compass.

  • ·         Raise and lower eyes when taking a bearing, do not move your head. Always use the same eye when taking bearings.

  • ·         Directly face object that is being measured.

  • ·        Magnetic fields will give incorrect compass readings. Avoid taking readings near magnetic fields such as steel, iron (ferrous metals), vehicles, rebar, and clipboards. Even belt buckles, glasses, and rings can interfere with the compass reading.

  • ·         Take bearing twice. 

  • ·         Adjust for magnetic declination as appropriate.

  • ·         Follow the direction of travel arrow, not the compass needle, when walking a bearing. Always follow the line indicated by the compass rather than relying on judgment as to the direction.

  • ·         Use back bearings to ensure you are on track when navigating.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Understanding Magnetic Declination

Declination: A Noun. The horizontal angle between the true geographic North Pole and the magnetic North Pole, as figured from a specific point on the Earth.”

 Declination is a term that causes “brain cramps” for many of my students in my map and compass classes. When I mention Magnetic Declination eyes roll.

The web site has an excellent discussion of what declination is and what causes it:

“Magnetic declination varies both from place to place, and with the passage of time. As a traveler cruises the east coast of the United States, for example, the declination varies from 20 degrees west (in Maine) to zero (in Florida), to 10 degrees east (in Texas), ......the magnetic declination in a given area will change slowly over time, possibly as much as 2-25 degrees every hundred years or so.......... Complex fluid motion in the outer core of the Earth (the molten metallic region that lies from 2800 to 5000 km below the Earth's surface) causes the magnetic field to change slowly with time."

Land navigation is based on the relationship to the North Pole; also known as “true north.  The measure of degrees of direction in relation to true north is called “degrees true.”  Maps are laid out in degrees true.  Land features (buttes, mountains, streams) on a topographic map are in reference to degrees true.  By that I mean the bearing from one mountain peak to another will be referenced in degrees true.  The map below illustrates that point. 

Magnetic compasses do not point to true north (the North Pole); the magnetic needle points to an area that could be considered the magnetic North Pole. 
As illustrated below, declination data can be found in the diagram at the bottom of a USGS topographic map, (on some commercially produced maps it can be hard to find.) 

Because declination changes over time, I recommend that map declination information be verified at   This is essential in the Pacific Northwest where maps are notoriously out of date in terms of road, city and data.
So, how do we make this simple?  How do we convert magnetic to degrees true?
I could do the math.  In Oregon, where I live, the magnetic declination is 15.6° East declination.

My recommendation: have the compass do the work so that there is no confusion with the math.

To do this, I need to choose a compass that can be adjusted for declination.  Some examples are the Silva Ranger or the Suunto M3.

With one of these compasses, the compass dial or housing is adjusted and rotated manually.  Both the Suunto and Silva Ranger come with a small, flat adjusting tool.  Consult with owner’s manual that came with the compass.

If declination is Easterly (Western U.S.) I will rotate the dial causing the baseplate’s orienting arrow to move in a clockwise direction.

   If declination is Westerly (Eastern U.S.) I will rotate the dial causing the baseplate’s orienting arrow to move in a counter-clockwise direction.

Now, adjust the dial and align the red magnetic needle on top of the orienting arrow (the red arrow engraved on the baseplate) the compass will provide directions in degrees true.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Garmin Rino 600 GPS

Last week I had the opportunity to use a Garmin Rino 600 GPS. 

It is accurate, has lots of capability and works as advertised.

I do recommend that the user take care regarding the very sensitive screen.

One of my students dropped the receiver and where my old Garmin map 60 would just be scratched this drop cracked the screen.  Though cracked across the screen, the receiver continued to operate quite nicely.

I wonder if a screen protect film is usable with this particular model?