Map, Compass & GPS

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

Friday, March 23, 2012

What to Carry and How To Carry It All

There is a great blog out there called Section Hiker....Check it out here.

In the post below, the author really gets in to the details of packing a backpack.  Great info.

Packing the Unpackable: Backpack Loading Tips

by Philip Werner

One of my readers, a guy named Tim, is having problems getting all of his backpacking gear into his backpack. This is something I’ve wrestled with too. I had a few breakthroughs this year though, based on some advice from a more experienced mentor that I thought I’d share. Feel free to chime in with your own suggestions to help Tim out.
Right off the bat, there are some basic things you can do to make things fit better:
To read the rest of the post go here.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Helping the Searchers

It’s 4:00 in the afternoon and weather conditions are worsening.  It has been a long day that started well before first light.  As darkness approaches you recognize that the hunt is over and you have no idea where you are, really are.  You have your pack with the right gear and extra food.  So, what are your options and how can you and help the searchers?

Search and Rescue teams are dedicated volunteers and professionals found in each county and province across North America.  They spend hours in training, certifications, and on missions looking for the lost and injured.

Helping the searchers begins at home well before the trip or hunt.   In Hunter Education, students are taught to always let a responsible person know where you are going and when you are expected to return.  If you don’t return, they are to call 911.  But there is more to it than that.  I suggest that your fill out a Trip Plan (visit the Link page at for the plan) just as a pilot would fill out a flight plan.  This plan gives the searchers more to go on; details are important to the searchers.  A vague statement of “he said he’d be hunting off the 400 road by Ball Butte” doesn’t help much.  Your trip plan should cover a lot more information such as the coordinates of your start point and camp, license plate numbers of your vehicle, a comment regarding any medical issues and the names of your partners in the wilderness.  Attach a map of your hunt area to the Trip Plan too.

Leave a copy of your Trip Plan with that responsible person, your family, a copy in camp, a copy with your partner’s family.  Be generous.

To read the rest of the post go here.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Brunton Compasses

(Riverton) — Riverton-based Brunton Outdoor Group formally announced Wednesday the return of its baseplate compass manufacturing from China. Hailing its new “Built Right, Right Here in Wyoming” campaign, the announcement was made in front of cheering employees, Governor Matt Mead, Wyoming National Guard Brigadier General Luke Reiner and a host of local and state dignitaries at the company’s manufacturing facility in the Central Wyoming College Business Park.

To read the rest of the article go here.

Wilderness First Aid

Are you current in first aid.  Technique and practices change.  We all need to be ahead of the game.

This is a fine post from 

by Tom Milne

Small pack – check. Right clothing and layers for the weather forecast (and worse) – check. Water and extra food – check. Headlamp – check. Current wilderness medical training and appropriate kit – ?

I enjoyed working as a mountain guide internationally for over a decade. A key responsibility of my job was managing the health and safety of my clients in the face of an overwhelming number of possible medical and logistical issues. Over time in the field and with training including Wilderness First Responder (WFR) and Wilderness EMT I learned how to be prepared on the medical side while balancing the rest of my duties.

Planning for the unexpected is part of every experienced outdoorsperson’s preparation regardless of destination, activity or time spent out. Common medical issues in the backcountry range from cuts and scrapes and blisters. Serious scenarios include broken bones, shock, or anaphylaxis from an insect sting. In the frontcountry we have the luxury of a rapid EMS system response- help is here within 2-10 minutes of calling 911.

To read the rest of the post go here:

If the WFR is not afforadable for you check out the Red Cross or NOLS Wilderness First Aid class.  Pricing ranges from $120 - $200.  -  Blake

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Compass Accuracy

After speaking at a land navigation lecture at a recent sportsman’s show, an attendee asked my opinion about the accuracy of his compass.  His compass was a new model and about the size of a nickel.  The rotating body was a circular plate rather than a more traditional red magnetic needle.  The four cardinal points of a compass (e.g., north, east) was the only bearing information displayed.  His compass was very limited in the information it could provide. It could only be counted on to provide a general trend of direction.  I told him the accuracy of a compass depends on many different factors. 

Do not assume all compasses give the same information; they do not.  The type of compass purchased impacts the dependability of its information. Compass selection is critical to accuracy.    

Grandfather’s compass from decades ago may no longer be the best selection for the hiker.  The image below is of a compass made between 1910-1920.  Though the dial is fairly detailed, the accuracy may be reduced due to the polarity of the magnetic needle.  In general terms, the polarity is how the magnetic needle will react to the earth’s magnetic field.  Over a period of almost 100 years, the compass’ magnetic needle may not move in relation to magnetic north as it did when new; that could mean the differences of several degrees.  To prove this point take a new baseplate compass and compare the two (do not hold them near each other.)  A navigator can also compare it a new compass or a location where a street or trail is known to run true north.

My recommendation then is to leave the old antique compass in a place of honor at home.  It is time to consider buying a new compass.

When buying that new compass what compass should the navigator consider using?  Unique to backcountry travel, the selection of the compass determines what tolerance for error is acceptable.   Are 5° degrees of error acceptable?  Remember 5° degrees of compass error over a one mile hike will put the navigator over 400 feet off the desired course.  Most backcountry hikers don’t think that way in terms of the capability of their compass but it certainly makes an impact.   If an inexpensive compass is purchased (generally less than $5) then the navigator should assume that the tolerance for error is high.  Rarely do people consider the accuracy of their compass during a purchase.  Having an accurate compass could mean the difference of making it to a critical rendezvous or trail junction.

So, let’s take a general look at the compasses on the market and discuss what options the navigator may expect.  For simplicity, the categories fall into four general groups (listed in most accurate to least accurate):

  • Mirrored sighting compasses
  • Declination adjustable compasses
  • Non-adjustable compasses
  • Trend of direction

The most accurate and best choice would be a mirrored sighting compass such as the Silva Ranger model (below.)  It is declination adjustable.  The sighting system is unique and the analogy is that it would be like using the sights of a rifle.  Such sighting inherently offers more accuracy.  Expect to pay approximately $50.  Please note that there are sighting compasses that offer a declination diagram etched in the compass housing but these models can not truly be mechanically adjusted.

Baseplate compasses that can be adjusted for declination is another solid option.  Expect to pay approximately $15 - $30.  Two examples of excellent choices are shown below.  The owner’s manual provides instructions to adjust the compass.  Remember that the magnetic needle still points to magnetic north but the compass housing’s dial has been adjusted for declination.  The accuracy is acceptable but not as good as the mirrored sighting compass.  I carry a Brunton 8010 G in my hunting pack and a Suunto M2 in my SAR pack (back up compass.)

Inexpensive base plate compasses ($5 to $10) that cannot be adjusted for declination are just obsolete; I acknowledge my prejudice.  It is just not the best option.  Though more adequate measurements can be made, the problem is that one must calculate for declination (add or subtract) which may lead to math errors.  Such calculation errors can be significant in the backcountry.  Finally, in the map and compass classes that I teach, I have observed that students have a degree of difficulty dealing with declination calculations.  Navigation should be kept simple and very clear.

The small ball compasses and key chain compasses will provide only a trend of direction.  An example would be that the hiker is walking in a northerly direction but not in a specific direction such as 045° (degrees true) or North East.  Fine accuracy is just not achievable.  Such a trend of direction will get you back to a baseline such as a long road or river.  This could be a suitable back up.

Another factor associated with the very old models or cheap compasses is that they lack a liquid filled compass housing.  The liquid dampens the movement of the magnetic needle when motion stops while sighting.  That dampening capability is a very desirable characteristic because it allows the needle to settle and become steady quickly.

Finally, the correct technique of how the navigator holds and aligns the compass while sighting is very important.  First, while following the owner’s manual instructions, adjust the compass for declination.  Second, ensure that no magnetic objects are near the compass (such as a flash light, belt buckle or a knife).  Third, while holding the compass at waist level, turn squarely towards a distant object.  Hold the compass so that the direction of travel arrow points directly at the object. (Point the direction of travel arrow away from you; perpendicular to your body.)

Use a mirrored sighting compass the same way.  It has many of the same features as the baseplate compass. Held at arm’s length when used, the sighting compass provides better directional control and bearing accuracy.

Education and knowledge of equipment function is a critical baseline that the hiker must attain.  Having a solid foundation of Global Positioning System (GPS) operation, map and compass skills is absolutely essential for land navigation.  Practice is important.

GPS receivers are accurate to +/- 15 meters or better.  I don’t know anyone who would buy a used GPS unit that has an error of 100 yards; that level of accuracy isn’t acceptable.  Why then would any navigator put his or his loved ones’ life at risk by not having a reliable, accurate compass?

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Selecting a Magnetic Compass

I felt fortunate to have been invited to attend a presentation on compass navigation by a senior Boy Scout troop leader.  It was a quick overview on the key components of a compass and its use in land navigation.  The troop leader quickly touched on purchasing a compass.  His overview made me consider just what an outdoorsman should look for in a good compass.

My experience has been that most sales clerks in the large box stores and major retail outlets have no experience in the use of a compass.  Their assistance is generally along the line of “…they are on aisle 12, half way down on the right;” and their knowledge isn’t that great.  The folks at REI are generally dialed in and best of all, their selection is better.  With a little research you will find a nice selection available at REI, Cabelas, and most of your outdoor stores that specialize in hiking and backpacking.

You don’t have to spend a lot of money to buy a good quality compass.  Consider the following when looking for a compass:

  • Brunton, Sunnto, and Silva all make good compasses.  There are other companies, of course, but these manufacturers can be found nationwide.  Prices start at about $20.  Each company has less expensive models but I would pass on those.

  • The compass dial (the circular component with the degree markings) should be “graduated” in two degree increments.  Those models with 5 degree increments or the small ball compasses (with the large safety pin type of clip) will give you a trend of direction through the woods but fall short when being used for serious land navigation.
To read the rest of the post go here

    Monday, March 5, 2012

    Book Review - The Natural Navigator

    I first learned of Tristan Gooley while reading an article in Outside magazine about two years ago.  I was intrigued with the discussion and concept of the natural navigator.   Navigation is a passion of mine, I bought a copy of The Natural Navigator – Pocket Edition.

    First, let me tell you what this book is not.  It is not a “how to book” of compass or GPS navigation loaded with maps, charts and technical diagrams with easy to remember mnemonics or rhymes (e.g., East is least, West is best.)  I don’t know if the co-founder of the Silva compass firm and master orienteer Bjorn Kjellstrom would be at peace with this book; but that’s OK.

    What The Natural Navigator is, is a book about personal observations that provide natural clues to orientation and direction in the backcountry.  The book provides a fine discussion where one’s attention is directed to take another look at what has been taken for granted in the past; that which is overlooked.  This booked opens the hiker’s awareness to the impact of terrain, weather, and the heavens.   

    I am especially appreciative of his discussions about not overlooking the obvious.  He does provide technical advice regarding direction finding with natural aids such as the use of a shadow stick and the sun to find north.  His explanation of the night sky, the stars and the earth’s movement through the seasons is down to earth and easy to understand.  Gooley goes well beyond the basic discussion of how to find the North Star.

    This is a great read for the backcountry traveler.

    Sunday, March 4, 2012

    Fire Starting In The Rain

    by Peter Kummerfeldt

    Tuesday, February 28, 2012

    Building Fires in the Rain

    There's no better time or place to test your fire building skills than in Oregon's Coast Range, in February, in the rain! These were the conditions that eighteen Search and Rescue team members experienced recently. The SAR team-members and I gathered one wet Friday afternoon to brush up their survival skills and to test the effectiveness of their clothing and the equipment they carried.
    Intuitively I think we understand the difference between building a fire on a hot July day and building one in February when it's bucketing rain, you're cold and wet, your fingers have lost their dexterity and their strength, you need a fire to help protect the victim of an accident and you need it now! But sometimes we need a reminder on just how difficult building a fire can be. Friday afternoon was just such a reminder!
    To read the rest of Peter's post go here.