Map, Compass & GPS

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

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Steps to Improve Compass Accuracy

To improve accuracy I’d suggest:

  • Ensure the compass is “on the mark” in terms of correct declination adjustment, the setting of the Direction of Travel Arrow and the alignment of the compass to the bearing (are you really pointing in the right direction.)
  • Pick the best land marks to work with such as pinnacles and spires and pronounced land marks; the choices may be limited.

There are several factors that impact accuracy that the hiker may have no control over but should be aware of.  Some of these include:

  • The quality of the hiker’s vision.

  • Polarity of the compass’ magnetic needle – does it point in the right direction? Polarity may change over time such that the magnetic needle my no longer work accurately.
  • Smooth movement of the magnetic needle.
  • Alignment of the compass dial to the compass housing.
  • Local attraction – Similar to declination, local attraction is magnetic interference unique to a specific location.  It may be caused by buried metal objects or an unusually high concentration of iron or nickel in the ground.
Navigation is not hard but it does take practice; it is a perishable skill.  I recommend to those in my classes that a minimum of two weeks before a backcountry trip that the GPS, map and compass goes everywhere with them.  Practice in the field or at the park.  Take the time to compare the three with what is seen. 

When in the wilderness compare both map and compass with a GPS when possible.  Hiking companions should compare their work too.

Familiarity with your equipment will make you a more skilled advocate for your safe return.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Mora Knives

Check this guy's site for information on the Mora knives available on the market today.  Lot of choices.

Mora Knives.

Lighten The Load

This is an older post from Section Hiker's site.  It's a great read.

The subject is how do you lighten your backpack?What should you leave behind on your next trip in the backcountry?

Tracking Unused Backpacking Gear

The next time you go on a two or three day backpacking trip, keep track of every item that you brought along and whether you used it. If you haven't done this before, chances are good that there are several items of clothing or accessories that you brought with you, and felt you needed, but you didn't actually use. Some common examples are:

To read the rest of the post go here.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Water Purification - Blue Green Algae

Every summer in the Cascades of Oregon hikers and campers are warned about Blue Green algae.  The warnings arrive as the temperatures rise.  In some cases the algae infestation can become quite dangerous.

Algae are microscopic organisms that grow naturally in the lakes and waters of Oregon.  Some species such as cyanobacteria can produce toxins that can cause serious illness or death in pets, livestock and humans.

Warnings are provided by the State's Office of Public Health.  Severe conditions can be visually detected by the presence of a thick scum or foam that is white, brown, blue green or bright green.

Contamination systems range from a mild skin irritation to dizziness, paralysis, cramps, vomiting and diarrhea.

So, when in doubt stay out and don't drink it.

Importantly for the hiker, you can not treat the toxins.  Water filtration and boiling has not been proven to be effective.

Should your pet become covered with the algae immediately wash them with water from another source.  Do not allow them to lick the algae off their body. 

For a detailed report on Blue Green Algae visit the US Forest Service site here.

Knives It The Backcountry - Part 2

What is a good, reliable knife?

As a follow-up to Part 1, I sought out another backcountry expert to discuss an alternative knife selection.

While attending the Washington Search and Rescue conference, I had an opportunity to talk to Skip Stoffel, President of Emergency Response International (ERI.)  An Air Force veteran and survival instructor, Skip founded ERI in 1978.  From his web site:

“… Emergency Response International, Inc. has specialized in Global Survival, Search and Rescue (SAR), and Emergency Preparedness training, publications, consulting, and products. ERI is committed to offering only the highest quality programs and services and guarantees all of its work.”

Skip’s view on the right knife for the SAR team member or backcountry traveler is 180° out from the view expressed in Part 1.

Skip looks for a knife that is strong, light weight, versatile, safe and modestly priced.  He does not recommend a folding knife.  His choice is the Mora knife.

The Mora 840 Clipper is a knife that performs well in the field.  It is a great all round choice. 

Though small, this knife is very sturdy.  The handle ergonomically fits the hand well and one’s grip is solid and secure; it is not unwieldy.  It can be used with a baton for cutting firewood like the larger knife.  It takes an edge very quickly. 

For the person not sure which knife to buy, the Mora is a great place to start.  It sells for a fraction of the price of the larger fixed blade models.  Put it to the test and see if it works for you. 

On another note, both John and Skip carried multi-tools in their kit such as the Leatherman Wave. 

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Water Purification

Kummerfeldt's review of water purification.

There are still far too many people using iodine tablets to disinfect their water when there is a much better product on the market - chlorine dioxide. There are also too many people drinking water that has not been disinfected simply because they don't like the taste of iodine not knowing that there is a new product on the market that doesn't leave an after taste.

Chlorine dioxide tablets made available by the Katadyn Company and also by Potable Aqua have been around for several years now but have not been embraced enthusiastically by those who recreate or work in the outdoors. Old habits die hard I guess. Or perhaps it's just ignorance! Either way you are putting your health at risk by drinking water that has not been disinfected.

If for no other reason you should consider using tablets that release chlorine dioxide because of its effectiveness in killing cryptosporidium, an organism commonly found in water - something that iodine was never able to do effectively.

Regardless of the manufacturer the tablets are individually packaged in sheets of ten tablets per sheet and are sold in containers of twenty or thirty tablets for $10 - $13.

Disinfecting your water is easy. Simply drop a tablet into a quart or liter of water and the chemical will destroy viruses, bacteria, Giardia and Cryptosporidium leaving no chlorine after taste.

For more information on Micropur tablets go to

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

inReach Update from Delorme

DeLorme inReach™ Two-Way Satellite Communicator Now Connects With iPhone®, iPad® and iPod® touch
Two-way messaging, interactive SOS, global coverage and Follow-Me/Find-Me Tracking and Location now available to vastly expanded mobile device user base.

YARMOUTH, Maine, May 22, 2012 /PRNewswire/ — DeLorme, an innovation leader in navigation technology, today announced that its award-winning inReach™ is now compatible with iPhone®, iPad® and iPod® touch. This innovation makes it possible for iPhone, iPad and iPod touch to access an array of two-way satellite communications capabilities with the inReach and the DeLorme Earthmate App.

inReach turns an iPhone, iPad or iPod touch into a global two-way satellite communicator for use outside traditional wireless coverage areas.
Users can send and receive messages to and from cell phones, email contacts and other inReach users, anywhere in the world. inReach can also be used to post messages to Facebook and Twitter.

“DeLorme is now extending the unique inReach two-way SOS, personal communication, and tracking capabilities to a far broader universe of users worldwide,” said Mike Heffron, DeLorme CEO. “This underscores our commitment to making affordable two-way satellite communication solutions available to as many people as possible.”

To read the rest of the post go here.

Spring Has Sprung - Are Your Ready?

This is a great post by Peter Kummerfeldt about getting your pack ready for Spring adventures.

Photo by Peter Kummerfeldt
Spring is here and summer is right around the corner. The snowline here in Colorado is retreating up the mountainsides and things are beginning to green-up. I’m hearing rumbles about it being time to head for the outdoors to hike, fish, photograph or whatever else takes you out there. Spring fever is upon us!
That being the case it might be time to drag out all of your gear and give it good once-over. Don’t assume that just because it was working fine when you stashed it in a basement closet last fall that it’s ready to go today.

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

Monday, May 21, 2012

Knives In The Backcountry (Part 1)

I was fascinated listening to John C’s backcountry survival presentation at the 2012 Washington Search and Rescue (SAR) conference.  John is a 19 year veteran of wilderness SAR.  He is also a county Emergency Management Coordinator in Washington.

With his backcountry experience and knowledge he was the absolute right person to discuss wilderness survival.

Key to his discussion of SAR tools, fire starting and building an emergency shelter was his selection of knives.  He carried a full tang, fixed blade knife in his SAR pack.

After his presentation I sat down with John to discuss why his primary choice was a fixed blade rather than a folding knife.  He told me that the hinge point of a folder was its weakest point and not something he would compromise on.

This was a stout knife made by the Busse Combat Knife Company.  His knife’s blade body was thick, just under a quarter inch; the tang itself was impressive.  The knife had an approximately eight inch blade. Sturdiness and versatility came to mind when looking at this tool.  It’s not a fine bladed scalpel but rather a strong knife that will do the job shaping boughs or batoning firewood.  It is a utilitarian, multipurpose part of his kit.

John’s is a quality knife and not a trendy looking bowie knife with engraving and inscription.  The only designs etched onto the blade were the wear patterns from years of hard and demanding work.  His selection of manufactures included the Busse Combat Knife Company, Swamp Rat and Scrap Yard; all names new to me.

He did caution that using a large knife takes experience and extra caution.

John’s choice may not be for everyone but is based on years in the wilderness and experience.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Backpacking - Lighten Up Your Pack

Check out this article from Section Hiker.

If you're seriously interested in reducing the weight of your backpacking gear, the most important thing you can do is to buy a digital scale. I like the model shown here, called an Ultraship Scale because it can weigh your items in ounces or grams. This is the third one I've owned – they fall off my cluttered desk onto the floor too often.

Section Hiker's site is a wonderful resource. 

To read the complete article go here.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Green Trail Maps

Another source for maps.

About Our Maps
Mt Hood Climbing Map - 462SG

Green Trails, Inc founded in 1973, publishes over 140 topographic recreation map titles for the most spectacular mountain, beach, canyon and urban areas of North America. Green Trails maps show the most current trail, road, and access information in the most clear, compact, and convenient format and scale available.

Visit their site here.

Sunday, May 13, 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.

To read the rest of the post go here.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Finding Direction Without a Compass

Preparation and carrying the ten essentials is vital to any outdoor trip.  Map, compass and GPS make up my navigation kit.  Still, the unplanned happens and the magnetic compass may be broken or left at home.  Knowing a few common practices can make a difference.

How can you determine direction without a compass or when the compass is broken?

There are a few viable techniques that can be used to determine direction.  But first, let’s eliminate two methods that are not practical.

Let’s eliminate the old axiom of moss growing on the north side of a tree.  It is just not reliable.

Secondly, dismiss the concept that deciduous trees (e.g., oaks, maples) develop significantly more vegetative structure on a southern exposure.  Generally, one would expect more branch development and canopy on the southern side because of the amount of sunlight received.  This is getting a lot of attention on the internet.  In the Pacific Northwest the Forestry professors that I have discussed this with tell me not to depend on such an observation.

The following are a few methods that are worth remembering.
To read the rest of the post go here.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Delorme inReach Review

The folks at have a great review of the Delorme inReach.

Hands on review of the DeLorme inReach for Android

The DeLorme inReach for Android pairs with compatible phones to offer two-way texting without cell service, as well as two-way SOS, tracking and positing to Facebook and Twitter. The device can also be used in standalone mode. A model that pairs with the DeLorme PN-60w is also offered.

The big advantages offered by the inReach are true global coverage (unlike SPOT devices) and two-way communication.

To read the rest of the post go here.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Topographic Map Essentials

A topographic map is your road map to the outdoors. It provides you information at a scale that is meaningful and detailed. Reviewing a topographic map is usually the starting point for the planning of any back country trip. For years, the US Geologic Survey (USGS) has been the principal publisher of accurate maps.

Within the last decade we have seen many innovations in mapping products that include new mapping companies and publishers, software, maps for the GPS and “Apps” for the iPhone.

Still, the USGS map remains the standard for back country navigation (visit the USGS’s site at I’d also recommend looking at June Fleming’s “Staying Found” or Bjorn Kjellstrom’s “Be Expert With Map & Compass.” Once you develop a map foundation you will easily shift to many of the other products on the market today.

To read the complete post visit  Seattle Backpackers Magazine here.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Navigating a Topographic Map

Knowing how to use a topographic map is vital to any back country outing!

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Reviewing a topographic map is usually the starting point for the planning of any back country trip. A topographic map is your road map to the outdoors. It provides you detailed information at a scale that is meaningful and detailed. For years, the US Geologic Survey (USGS) has been the principal publisher of accurate maps. Within the last decade we have seen many innovations in mapping products that include new mapping companies and publishers, software, maps for the GPS, and “Apps” for the iPhone.

Still, the USGS map remains the standard for back country navigation (visit the USGS’s site at I’d also recommend looking at June Fleming’s “Staying Found” or Bjorn Kjellstrom’s “Be Expert With Map & Compass.” Once you develop a map foundation you will easily shift to many of the other products on the market today.

Many publications, videos, and web sites will give you a complete rundown on the features, symbols and components to a map. This article will discuss a few of the key features that you should be aware on a 7.5 minute map.

To read the rest of the post go here.

Controling Panic

Peter Kummerfeldt has a new video out about controling panic when you are lost.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife produced this one.

To view the video, go here.