Map, Compass & GPS

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

Friday, October 14, 2011

Compass Navigation

Topic Two: Moving Through the Backcountry.  This post deals with the considerations a hiker should take while navigating and moving through the wilderness.
Before leaving for a backcountry trip, there are three important steps to accomplish before leaving home. First, tell someone where you are going and when to expect your return.  Second, leave a map of your planned route with that responsible person and in your vehicle. Third, fill out the trip plan I have posted on my web site at; the trip plan stays with the responsible person.  As a Search and Rescue volunteer I have learned that these key steps can make a huge difference in you having to spend an unplanned night in the woods and being found----especially if you incur an unexpected injury or loss of communication.
The following are suggestions to consider before and during a trip into the backcountry.
While compass accuracy is important, many underestimate the topographic map as a key component in backcountry navigation.  I recommend carrying a set of maps that include a 7.5’ United States Geological Survey (USGS) map and a map like a United States Forest Survey map.  The USGS map gives me the detail information of the immediate area while the other map covers a much broader area.  I look for significant land features that will surround my direction of travel.  Features such as distinct mountain peaks, a stream, and a ridge line are just of few topographic “hand rails” that can help.  For example, if a large stream is to be on your right and it’s not there, it is time to double check your navigation picture.
Figure 1
Additionally, every hiker must 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.  This way I don’t have to worry about the math (do I add easterly declination or subtract it?)  Declination information found at the bottom of a topographic map is frequently out of date.  Check the web site to obtain the declination for the location you will be visiting.  For more detailed information on declination visit
To read the rest of the post go here.

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