Map, Compass & GPS

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

Sunday, December 30, 2012

GPS Triangulations Video - How It Works

Thanks to Rich Owings for sharing this short and informative video on how GPS triangulation fixes the hikers position in the backcountry.

To view the video go here.

Backcountry iPhone & Android App.

Another App for your iPhone or Android? 

This is a relatively new app for smart phones.  Reviews are mixed but the product is free so I gave it a try.

The following is brief description of what it does:

"GeoCam is a powerful tool designed for creation and preview of geophotos – i.e. photos supplied with additional information, such as geographic coordinates, camera orientation at the moment of shooting, comments, etc."
For more information go here.  iPhone  or Android.

iPhone Screenshot 1

Norwegian Mountain Code - Stay Safe in the Backcountry

I enjoy reading about backcountry travel. I am also interested in what is the right gear to carry.  I also do my best to hike safely.

I came across the Norwegian Mountain Code last year.

It's pretty simple.

In 1967, Norway tragically lost 18 outdoors men during the Easter weekend. Later the Norwegian Red Cross and Norwegian Mountain Touring coordinated the development of the code; a common sense approach to back country winter travel.

The code compliments the Ten Essentials and builds on it. Read about the code here.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

GPS Setup

Before heading out into the back country, spend a few minutes to update the settings on your GPS receiver.

Setup is a straight forward process that everyone in the hiking party should do.  Everyone should be on the same page.  For example, if the hiker is to meet at a spot for lunch, wouldn't it be nice if all met at exactly the right spot?  If receiver settings don't match the group may be over a hundred yards apart from each other.

So, here is what I recommend.

  • First, remember the prhase, "match the map."  The receivers all need to match the parameters of the map.
  • Geographic coordinates:  This is the grid system on the map.  Most commonly the grid can be either Latitude/Longitude or UTM grid.  Keep in mind that Latitude and Longitude settings in your receiver and set at the the factory are Degrees Minutes.Minutes.  The map is set to Degrees Minutes Seconds.  They are close but not the same.  To adjust these receivers settings settings (for a Garmin 60 series), select main menu, then select setup, then units.  Check your owner's manual.  Personally, I use UTM grid.  UTM = Universal Transverse Mercator.  It's a much simpler grid system to use.  For information on how to use UTM go to the USGS site here.
  • Map Datum:  On USGS topo maps and most Forest Service maps, map datum is listed in the  bottom left corner of the map.  It might indicate that the horizontal datum is North American Datum 1927 or North American Datum 1983.  To match the map go back to receiver setup and select units.  Norht American Datum 1927 will be listed by the acronym NAD27 CONUS (for Continental United States).  That is the option you want.
         The web site has a nice description of Map Datum here.

  • I always recommend the hiker carry a declination adjustable compass.  Visit the website to find the correct declination for the area you will be hiking in.  The compass will now provide data in degrees true.  Now adjust the GPS receiver via the setup function again, and select "heading".  Then selction the option "True."  Now the hiker will match the map and the compass.
Note that older USGS topographic maps may have declination data that is very old.  Do not rely on that information.

If everyone in your party "matches the map" you all will be on the same page and this greatly simplifies a rendezvous and  keeps your navigation simple.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The North Star is a beacon that we can use to guide us in the backcountry.

Few hikers use the celestial bodies in the night sky to navigate by. But on a clear night, the night sky provides a feature that is an excellent source of direction. It doesn’t matter if it is June or November, if you are in Wyoming or Oregon.

The North Star or Polaris is the principle star that I will focus on.

For the backcountry hiker consider that Polaris is fixed in position over the northern pole. Unique from other celestial stars and planets, Polaris is very closely aligned to the earth’s axis. Stars and planets rotate around Polaris. And like the sun, this rotation is from east to west through the sky. Polaris will be found approximately half way between the northern horizon and straight overhead. In the northern hemisphere, Polaris can found in our northern sky and is never more 1° from true north – the North Pole.

Constellations help locate Polaris. Cassiopeia and the Big Dipper point to Polaris. Uniquely, Cassiopeia, the Big Dipper and Little Dipper can be seen in relation to Polaris year round. In winter, the constellation of Orion will also help locate Polaris.
To read the complete post go here.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Update Your GPS Receiver

Is your GPS receiver running with the latest software update?
I receive a monthly newsletter from  As the site address implies, this is a group located in the United Kingdom.  Their site is packed with lots of info; so too is their news letter.
Their latest post caught my eye and is worth forwarding:
"Good manufacturers offer regular free updates for the software in your device as well     as any supporting software on your PC/Mac like Basecamp; it’s in their interest as much as yours. Why? Because updates as well as offering access to new features are a useful way to fix software glitches and often a new update raises new glitches which means another update!!"
This is great information.  To view the current newsletter and to subscribe go here.

I recommend that GPS users update their receivers every few months.  Also, I'd suggest that before uploading new mapping software this be done too.  Simply put, an upgrade keeps your receiver current and provides corrections to software issues.

For those with older, discontinued models there may be no updates.  Contact your manufacturers website to resolve any issue.

Friday, December 7, 2012

UTM Converter

How do you convert coordinates from UTM to Latitude and Longitude?

A friend gives you coordinates to the best fishing hole in the state.  The coordinates are in UTM (Universal Transmercator).  The problem is, you use only latitude and longitude.
How do you quickly convert from one system to the other?

The answer, visit this site:

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Maps For Your GPS

There are several map software programs on the market and several that are free.  Check these out.
Garmin (  has several products available.  I'd check REI for a good list of what is available.  The quality is very good, road and trail information is current; it's a quality product.  On my older Garmin products I still use the old Map Source product and it works nicely for my needs.
Montana Mapping ( is an absolutely first rate product for the backcountry hunter.  Using USGS maps layered with land ownership information (e.g., Forest Service, BLM) this product provides an incredible amount of information for the dollar.  The old forest road/logging road data provided is probably the best on the market.

Free Maps for the GPS

GPS File Depot ( has an extensive library of free maps. 

Switchbacks ( has topo's of the Pacific Northwest. 

Keep an eye on Rich Owings' outstanding site:  for information and product reveiws relating to GPS. 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

GPS Accuracy

A friend from my SAR team forwarded Michael Coyle post on GPS Accuracy.  Don't get too wrapped up with the complexity but take away the basis of your receiver's accuracy calculations. 

Your GPS is lying to you

At the very least, you’re probably misinterpreting what it’s saying.

People’s attitudes toward GPS devices are very interesting. Since 2000, when selective availability was turned off, GPS has become ubiquitous to the point where most people have one and interact with it on a daily basis, whether they know it or not. To make things even more confusing, the general case of global positioning, whether satellite based or not, is completely pervasive. You may not know this, but this web site knows where you are (to some level of detail) right now.

To read the rest of Michael's post go here.

Monday, November 26, 2012


REI is offering the SPOT II for around $75.00.  Excellent price.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

GPS - Returning To A Destination

This post covers several GPS considerations before striking out for a destination.

The hike into the backcountry has come to an end.  Now it’s time to return to the trailhead.  By selecting “Find” or “Where Is” the GPS receiver provides direction to the trailhead.

Figure 1.  Using a magnetic compass.

Before returning, the hiker should review several GPS navigation considerations:

·         The Electronic compass:  It must be calibrated after each battery change.  If the hiker doesn’t remember doing this, calibrate the receiver.  Bearing information will be more accurate by several degrees.

Figure 2.  GPS Compass display.  The bearing to the destination is 298°.  The hikers heading is about 115°.

·         Distance information:  This data (e.g., 10.2 miles) is line of sight or more commonly, “as a crow flies.” The GPS receiver doesn’t take into account topography and detours that may be needed.  Thus, a distance of 10.2 miles may really be 11.2miles or more at the end of the hike.

·         Bearing: Make sure that bearing information is presented in degrees and not “cardinal letters” such as NNE (North North East).  The hiker’s compass provides direction information in degrees.  When aligned this keeps navigation simple; both compass and GPS complement each other.  Make this change by adjusting the compass setup.  

 As shown (figure 2 above), the GPS provides direction (298°) and distance (10.2 miles) to the waypoint.  The direction is the “Bearing” to the waypoint.  The red arrow and digital read out provide the return direction to the waypoint, in this case is 298°. (The red arrow points the hiker to the waypoint.)  As the hiker moves down the trail, expect the receiver to provide continuous updates to the selected destination.  Movement on the will may cause the red arrow to move and the digital information to change too.

 Note that the return direction (Bearing) to the original waypoint may very likely be different than the heading as the hiker moves down the trail.  Heading is the hiker’s direction of travel, his path through the backcountry.  In the example (figure 2 above) the heading is 115°; the direction of movement.  Later, as the hiker moves directly to the waypoint, both the bearing and heading may be the same.


·         GPS Map Page: Select the map page.  Use this page to corroborate the electronic compass information. 

Figure 3. The blue squiggly line is the recorded track; it is where I have been.  The black triangle indicates my position on the map page and the direction travel. 

  •  In this view, the wide blue line is the GPS track; the hiker’s historical path through the woods.  The exaggerated black triangle points in the direction of travel. (The other red and brown lines are logging roads.)  To obtain this type of presentation the GPS has been left on capturing satellite data during the entire hike.  Using the black triangle, the hiker can follow his movement down the trail to the waypoint destination such as “CAMP” at the bottom right of the screen.

·         Bushwhack:  Occasionally the hiker may elect to bushwhack from a current position to a new destination.  The hiker should consult the map to assess the overall big picture to determine if the route is safe, find and identify natural obstacles and evaluate terrain.


·         Map and Compass:  Don’t leave these important tools stuffed away in the pack.  Practice with them during the hike.  For example, use the map and compass to orient the map to get the general lay of the land.  Use the compass to further evaluate the bearing to a destination.  For example, the GPS’ determines that the bearing to the trailhead is 298°.  Use the compass to sight a bearing of 298° and follow the compass rather than the GPS’ electronic compass.

Navigation is not hard but it takes practice and repetition.  Don’t assume you will have the same visual landmarks on the return trip.  A change in weather (fog and snow) can increase the complexity of your navigation.  Practice and experience significantly helps develop confidence in the hiker’s skill level and equipment.


Friday, November 16, 2012

Orienting a Map

Orienting a map is a starting point to identify where I am, where I want to go and where I have been. I orient my topographic map (topo) before I leave the trail head and at regular intervals during a hike.

To read the rest of this post go here.

REI sale on GPS Receivers

Check out REI's sale on Garmin GPS receivers here.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Battery Power For The GPS

Check out my latest article about batteries and power management for your GPS at SeattleBackpackersmagazine.  View it here.

Monday, November 12, 2012

SPOT Support For a Rescue

From the Billings Gazette:

November 08, 2012 12:10 am
"It seems wrong to say that Columbus elk hunter John Chepulis was lucky. He’s lying in a Bozeman hospital intensive care room hooked up to a ventilator to help him breathe, heavily sedated and fighting pneumonia. But his situation could have been much worse.

"This whole thing, to me, has been divine intervention from the beginning," said Bonnie Chepulis, John's wife.

Chepulis, 65, was hunting with friends John Simmons and Scott Wittman near the base of Shedhorn Mountain southeast of Ennis on Oct. 30 when everything went haywire at about 10 a.m."

To read the rest of Brett French's article go here.

Parachute Cord

The following post is from Peter Kummerfeldt's blog:

550 cord, paraline, paracord, parachute line, call it what you will, 150 feet of mil-spec parachute line should be a part of your gear.

As I think back over nearly 46 years of teaching survival skills and about the same amount of time beating about the bush, I don't think I have ever been without some parachute cord. I have used to to build shelters, catch fish, weave nets, make stronger rope, for emergency dental floss, as sewing thread, to retrieve water when I was cliff-bound and yes, parachute line has lowered me to the ground when I jumped out of an airplane while I was in the Air Force. Simply put it can truly be a life saver!

To read the rest of Peter's post go here.

Deschutes County SAR - Join Us

Deschutes County Search and Rescue is looking for new team members.

If you are interested down load the application here.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Solar Flares

The sun is very active right now.  Significant solar flares can have a major impact on radio communications, the electrical grid and GPS reception.  The following article is from the  "Christian Science Monitor."

The sun unleashed a powerful solar flare late Monday (Oct. 22), releasing waves of radiation into space that have already caused a short radio blackout on Earth.

The Christian Science Monitor
Weekly Digital Edition

The sun emitted a significant solar flare on Oct. 22, 2012, peaking at 11:17 p.m. EDT. The flare came from an active region on the left side of the sun that has been numbered AR 1598, which has already been the source of a number of weaker flares. This flare was classified as an X.1-class flare.
The flare erupted from the sunspot AR 11598 (short for Active Region 11598), and reached peak brightness at 11:22 p.m. EDT (0322 GMT this morning, Oct. 23), according to scientists working on NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), a space telescope that constantly monitors the sun with high-definition cameras.

To read the rest of the article go here.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Using the SPOT Satellite Messenger

Is a SPOT messenger something you should carry in the backcountry?  Is it really just for those who go deep into the wilderness?

The SPOT II messenger
SPOT is satellite messenger.  It’s a device that has the capability to receive and process Global Positioning System (GPS) data and link that information to a preloaded text or email message.  Messages sent from remote locations can provide updates to family and friends or activate an emergency SOS alert (911) response.

The manufacturer’s web site states:

 The SPOT Satellite GPS Messenger provides a vital line of communication with friends and family when you want it, and emergency assistance when you need it. Using 100% satellite technology, SPOT works virtually anywhere in the world, even where cell phones don’t – all with the push of a button.”

SOS:  Use this function In the event of a life threatening or other critical emergency to notify emergency services of your GPS location and that you need assistance. The GEOS International Emergency Response Center alerts the appropriate agencies worldwide – for example contacting 9-1-1 responders in North America and 1-1-2 responders in Europe.”

I bought my first SPOT about four years ago and then bought a second (and newer) model last summer.  The newer model is smaller, has a bit more capability and was about two thirds of the cost ($99 at Cabelas). There are many variants of locater beacons/messengers on the market today but I stayed with SPOT because of its reliability and simplicity. 

I offer a few suggestions:

·         Pick those who you would place on the contact/notification list carefully.  Ask permission to place someone on list.  Update the list before each trip.  This is especially true for those assigned to respond in an emergency; be picky.


·         If someone wants you to be on their list think that over.  Do you really want to respond to a request for help?  Will you be available?


·         Keep your emergency contact information current.



·         Provide SPOT web site user ID and password information to a family member.   Put this information on your trip plan too. (Click here for a sample trip plan.)


·         In every message option I list:


o   My cell phone number

o   My activity and general area description (e.g., hunting in the Metolius unit west of Camp Sherman)

o   Who is with me


·         In the field, activate the device in an open area away from trees and cliffs.  A clear view of the sky is the hikers best bet. 


·         If you have a notification schedule – stick to it (e.g., “I will call every night at 6:00”).


·         If you send OK/Check in messages check to ensure the designated contacts received SPOT messages.  Do this when you return home. 


·         SPOT is not limited to backcountry use only.  Take it on trips, to the shopping center and overseas.  Like a Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver, frequent use develops confidence and understanding.


·         The unit’s buttons are somewhat difficult to push in and activate.  That is a designed capability.  My local SAR organization was activated last spring due to an inadvertent SOS/911 alert. 


·         Keep the unit close at hand where it can be turned on quickly.


·         Lithium batteries must be used in the SPOT messenger.


I have been a satisfied user.   I take it everywhere. Do check the company’s web site occasionally at


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

A Story of Hunting and Hearing Loss

Todays post is by guest writter John O'Connor.  John is a father, outdoorsman and is passionate about living a healthy lifestyle.   Check out his new blog at!
I come from a big family that loved different sports. My siblings and I were all involved in various activities, so it was rare that we ever got to spend quality time together. Because of that, I really enjoyed the time I got to spend with my father, especially when we would go hunting. It was like we were a two-man-team by ourselves in the woods. We had fun and we learned much about each other during those days.

We also felt we were fully prepared for our hunting trips. But were we? We had the guns, the ammunition and the high-tech gear. However, we didn't have everything we needed, such as hearing protection. Back then, we never really gave it much thought, but now we realize how important hearing protection really is.

Now, my father is in his 70s and wears a hearing aid to help him hear. Though hunting wasn't the main reason he lost his hearing, his doctor does admit that it was a major contributor. The lack of protection over a long period of time finally took its toll on my father's hearing.

We often forget to take precautions to things like hearing protection because we don't realize its importance. We protect our body because any damage to it can cause an immediate threat. Hearing loss happens overtime, so we don't keep it at the front of our mind.

The Dangers Of Firearms

The sound of a shotgun puts out around 166 decibels (DB). The average person only speaks at sounds around 50 DB. The human ear can only take loud sounds for so long before it starts losing its function.

Moreover, if you practice your aim at an indoor shooting range, the sound is amplified and bounces off the walls. This can cause even further damage to your hearing if you are not using the proper protection.


Earplugs are the standard protection for hunters. They are often made out of foam, and they block the loud sounds of a gunshot, helping reduce the amount of DBs that enter your eardrum. Earplugs are cost effective, but don't offer the greatest protection.


Earmuffs offer greater protection than earplugs, but for many hunters, they work too well. In other words, hunters usually have a hard time hearing their partners. The clamshell design blocks many frequencies of sound from entering the ear. That is why I personally use electronic earmuffs.

Electronic Earmuffs

If you are serious about hunting and your hearing, then you should absolutely invest in a pair of electronic headphones. These high-tech gadgets block the dangerous levels of DBs from entering your ears, but also amplify low levels of sound to help you hear people around you.

Your hearing is more important than you think, so take the proper precautions when you are going to engage in an activity that involves loud sounds. You don't have to sacrifice your fun, but you do have to be safe as well.


Friday, October 19, 2012

Compass Navigation - Aiming Off

Section Hiker is a blog that I follow.  The following is a post on compass navigation  whose concept is similar to my Baseline Navigation article posted earlier.

"Aiming off is a cross-country navigation technique for finding a destination like a shelter or a landmark that is located along a natural or man-made landscape feature (also called a linear feature) like a stream, a ridge, or a path."

To read the rest go here.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Baseline Navigation

Baseline navigation is a simple technique that requires little practise.   Break out your map and compass and give this a try on your next outing.
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.
To learn more about baseline navigation go here.

Wool in Winter

Is wool the right material for you during winter backcountry travel?

My friend Leon has an interesting post about how well wool performs as winter wear.  Interesting too are the comments from two of his readers.

"While there are synthetic clothing options available, for my money, nothing beats wools in winter. Where I live in Central Oregon, wool is my favorite material for pants about six months out of the year. Also, the material is fire resistant, and stays warm when wet.

Wool can also be inexpensive: Last fall at the local surplus store, I got a lightweight pair of wool pants for $7.95. And once you find a good wool garment, it will last seemingly forever. My old Lands End red wool sweater has served me well for the past 20 years, and it’s still going strong."

To read the rest of Leon's post go here.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

GPS Accuracy - An Update

This post is a follow on to an older article that I just "re-posted."

I'd like to add a few other considerations.

Remember, that quality and accurate navigation takes time and practice.  Just because the hunter has a GPS that might be five years old, there is no reason to think it can not provide accurate data; it can.  It just takes time.  Recently while deer hunting in Oregon's Cascades heavily timbered forest I found that my position fixes took noticeably longer to acquire than when hunting or hike the open high desert area.

I'll always take a look at my satellite information page to see how many satellites I am tracking.  Give the GPS time to do that job. 

Notice the part of the graphic to the left that  indicates     +/- 27 feet, that is the accuracy of your position data.  This information is an approximation.  If the hunter received data were to say, 150, I'd recommend remaining in position and let the GPS continue to process.  Allow this information to drop to 30 feet.

If the hunter has an older GPS and the receiver just doesn't seem to be tracking enough satellites, turn and face in a southerly direction.  The GPS constellation is roughly below 60 degrees north.  For those in the Pacific Northwest, most of the satellites will be to the south.

Back up you GPS navigation with your map and compass. Attempt to triangulate you position on the map.

GPS Accuracy

Are you comfortable with the accuracy of your GPS receiver?
by Blake Miller
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.
To read the rest of the post go here.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Fire Starter - Gasoline

My friend Leon has a good post and video today on starting a fire using gasoline.  Not something to be done every day, but this method has its place and it works just fine.

Check out the post here.