Map, Compass & GPS

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

Friday, June 29, 2012

Rain Gear

It rains outside, so carrying rain gear should be a no-brainer. But what is the best rain suit for your needs? Or, is a rain suit the best choice for you?

by Leon Pantenburg

Rain follows me. Over Christmas break, 1977, John Nerness and I went backpacking in Death Valley, CA. Packing rain gear seemed like a waste of time – after all, the average annual rainfall is 2.36 inches.

But two days before Christmas, we ended up at the bar at Furnace Creek, waiting out a rain storm that washed out the road. On my John Muir Trail through hike, it rained nine consecutive nights, with intermittent showers during the day. In Louisiana, during my 1980 Mississippi River canoe voyage, the rain lasted more than 40 hours at one stretch.

I use and appreciate good raingear. But choosing the best for your needs may depend on different circumstances.

Essentially, rain gear choices boil down to two: poncho or rainsuit. I use both, depending on the circumstances and activity.

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

Monday, June 25, 2012


Here is a link from about the SPOT satelite messenger; SPOT.

This article is written from the perspective of the end user.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Book Review: The Cave and the Sea

Here is a review on a new book by my friend Leon Patenburg.

There is too much fiction in the preparedness/wilderness survival area, passed off as fact, and written by people with little or no knowledge of the subject matter. But The Cave and the Sea, a Novel by John A. Heatherly is up-front fiction, a good read, and you might learn something from it.

Before there was the written word, there was a whole area of unrecorded history we can only guess about. There are some oral legends that survived. (I remember reading “Beowulf,” in college. It is one of the first such recorded legends, and we had to read it in the original Olde English. As a reading nerd and Journalism/English major, I thought the piece was kinda cool.)

The Cave and the Sea is a historical novel, by John A. Heatherly, about Native Americans in the 1600s.
The Cave and the Sea is a historical/survival novel about Native Americans in the 1600s.
But historical fiction, which is loosely defined as a story based on fact, can be really useful to help us learn how prehistoric people survived and thrived under adversity.

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

I just learned about this web site and thought I'd pass their info along.

The reviews that I have checked out look solid.  Bookmark this one!! is working hard to be the leading resource in helping outdoor lovers of all ages and abilities find the right gear and stay safe on the trails.
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Visit the Rosenbloom's site here.


Thursday, June 21, 2012

Low Impact Hiking

Most probably feel that they have minimal impact while in the backcountry.  As the picture shows, this trail is easily identified and well worn.  Signage asks us to remain on the trail to eliminate damage to the surrounding area.

Section hiker has a great post about what the hiker needs to be aware of when on and off the trail.

"Have you ever come across a meadow of wild flowers and walked across it? How about tall prairie grass? If you have, you know that it takes very little to create a noticeable path through such an area. Once created, others have a strong tendency to walk along the same route and create a permanent path."

To read the rest of the post go here.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Families In The Outdoors

This is an one of my first posts but the suggestions still apply.  Here are some thoughts about what to take on the trail hike with young people.

Yesterday I listened to my county's SAR coordinator talk about what to carry in the back country and how one should prepare.  You can't go wrong with the suggestions listed below.

     Central Oregonians are fortunate to be close to some of the finest forests and trails in the nation. Our woodlands offer spectacular recreation opportunities and vistas, all at amazingly affordable rates. The forest system is an incredible place to recreate with your children. Children find the outdoors a place to learn, explore, and let their imagination run wild.

As you prepare to head for the trails safety is the first thing to consider and it’s best to make a consistent practice of a few key concepts. First, always let a responsible person know what your plans are. Let them know who is going, where you are going and when you will return. Should you not return on time it is this person that contacts 911. Pack a trail kit with you; always. The “10 essentials” is your baseline to start with (See below at the end of the post.)   Always pack a snack, water and an emergency shelter (such as a heavy duty trash bag.) You will find how little room it takes in your pack. A good book to review is “Build the Perfect Survival Kit” by John McCann. Retailers REI and Cabela’s have fine check lists online too.

A map, compass or GPS always goes with you on the trail. Children are quick to learn how a GPS works and find it “cool.” Navigation can be great show and tell time. June Fleming’s book “Staying Found” is a fine resource for land navigation and has great ideas to orient your child in the campground or back country. Demonstrating your ability to navigate builds your child’s confidence in you and truly breaks you out from your friends; most adults don’t have a clue. Land navigation classes are available through COCC’s Community Learning Department (www., 541 383 7270) and Outdoor Quest (, 541 280 0573.)
Let’s leave the electronics in the car and off the trail. Each trip can be a learning experience. Have a simple goal and keep it achievable for the youngest in the group. Ask who can spot an eagle first or what fish can we find in the stream? Field guides are a big help here.

We are the stewards of our woodlands and it’s up to us to develop the respect and share the responsibility. Young people quickly recognize poor woodland behavior amongst others; you set the example. Demonstrate your own respect by picking up litter and staying on the marked trail; “leave no trace” has become the rule in outdoor travel.

Fun on the trail creates special memories for everyone in the family. It’s inexpensive and easy. With little effort it can be rewarding and safe. You will interact with your child on a new level.

The Ten Essentials:

1. Maps of the area

2. Declination adjusted compass

3. Flashlight, extra batteries/bulb

4. Extra food and water

 5. Extra clothing

6. Sunglasses and sun screen

 7. First aid kit

8. Pocket knife

9. Waterproof matches

10. Fire starter

Sunday, June 17, 2012

It Has To Work For You

During the course of teaching GPS classes for over 12 years and now wilderness survival I have become attached (so to speak) to a phrase, "It has to work for you."

There is nothing magic here. Nothing novel. Nothing original.

People enjoy talking about new technology, equipment or skills that they have learned. They are justifiably proud of their new knowledge.

A good friend got me very interested in using an alcohol stove while backpacking. It is economical, takes up little space and weighs but a few ounces. The problem is, that I can't get mine going reliably. I need more time with it to learn the basics; how simple can that be. But still, it is not working for me.

In SAR training two years ago, one team member told me how a computer mouse pad is great as a stove platform, in the snow while winter camping. So I try it out. I accidentally spill come Coleman white gas fuel on the pad. When I light the stove, of course the pad catches on fire; just great. The spot fire on the pad quickly burned out and just singed the top surface of the pad other wise it was just fine. This works for me.

There are a lot of books out there on backcountry travel and survival. Survival has become very popular. I suggest reading these with a critcal eye. If there is a particular technique or skill set that you want to adopt, test it at home first. Though the author may be on the speaking/sportsman show circuit, has his own cable show or is repeatedly on network news be critical. Remember, when you are in a jam, you are repsonsible for you.

Become cautious when reading old and dated material. For example, in the late 1960's I was given a copy of Colin Fletcher's book, "The Complete Walker." This book got me hooked on backpacking. That said, the book is based on lessons and experiences from almost fifty years ago. Doing some research and review of current methodology may be best.

Interestingly, I am hearing from my students more often, "I heard this was used by the Special Forces," or "I read in a magazine that this is what Special Forces do." Well, OK, but is that really true or better yet, is that important for your needs. It gets down to research and experience.

Let's consider land navigation. It is a practiced yet perishable skill. You need to be on your game. If you are the team navigator, you skill and techniques have to work for everyone.

So my point would be, as you prepare for a trip or hike, as you put new gear into your pack, test it in advance. Make sure it works for you.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Is Your Compass or GPS Receiver Broken

What do you do when a compass breaks or the GPS just doesn’t seem to be working right?  Here are a few suggestions that will help the navigator.

The theme of this post is to discuss what options the backcountry navigator has with equipment that might not be working correctly. 

When equipment does not appear to provide the correct indication (such as the GPS bearing to the trail head) it’s time to stop.  Never rush navigation.  Stop and take the time to really look over the information provided.  Consult with the rest of the group.

Being able to recognize the proper operation of the hiker’s equipment is important.  This is obtained through field checks well before any trip.  The gas stove can be tested at home before the journey.  The navigation kit can be evaluated throughout the year at the local park or forest. I recommend to the elk and deer hunters in my GPS classes to take their receiver everywhere they go for two weeks prior to leaving for camp.  Push buttons, change displays, mark a waypoint and finally, return to a destination.  Like a pilot of a plane, a map, compass and GPS are the instruments in the backcountry cockpit.

Normally a magnetic compass’ needle rotates freely.  The needle rotates on a jeweled pivot point.  The magnetic compass should be kept level while in use allowing the magnetic needle to move about in the compasses housing.  My Suunto recently just stopped rotating.  I would change direction about 30 degrees and the magnetic needle would move about 15 degrees and then just hang up.

Sadly, there is no simple in the field fix for this.  I gently tapped the compass body and checked the movement of the housing but nothing seemed to work.  Never let broken gear clutter your pack or be used mistakenly.

A back up compass is very helpful in such a situation.  It doesn’t have to be expensive, just reliable.  No matter what you use for a back up, it has to work well and requires testing.  I take all my new compasses to a location in town where the streets run north and south (degrees true.)  I will hike the streets insuring that the compass is on the mark.  This only takes a few minutes.  Recently I noticed that one of my small ball compasses seemed to be at least 20 degrees off; it’s a goner.  Note, that a small back up compass may not be as precise as your primary model.  Also recognize that some compass will only provide a trend of direction such as moving in a northerly direction as opposed to tracking on a direction of 025°.

Before throwing a quality compass out, contact the manufacturer to see what the warrantee offers.

So what does the hiker do if the GPS receiver appears to be broken?  
The following are steps that I’ll perform:

1.    If I have a GPS with an electronic compass I’ll ensure the compass is activated.  For example on the Garmin 60 series, pressing and holding the “page” button with turn the compass on or off.

2.    I’ll ensure the electronic compass is calibrated.  The compass must be calibrated after each battery change.

3.    Check the charge on the batteries.  If in doubt replace them.

4.    When the “Go To, Find or Where Is” option has been selected, older models will require motion to cause the compass arrow and displays to adjust.  Take five or more steps and see if there are any changes with the display.

5.    Turn the GPS receiver off, open the battery case and remove one battery for about twenty seconds, return the battery and power up the receiver again. 

6.    Once powered up, I want to be certain that the receiver has captured the signals from at least four satellites.

7.    Worse case - call the manufacturer.  Call early in the morning.

In the field, I leave my receiver powered on, collecting data the entire trip.  I keep my receiver in a holster that attaches to one of my shoulder straps.  Before leaving the trail head I “dump the junk” and get rid of old waypoints (e.g., last year’s fishing trip hot spots), I reset data fields on the odometer page and I will clear out my track log.  As I hike, my receiver is collecting all my trail data.  Should my receiver’s compass display fail I can follow my track (the “bread crumb trail” on the map page) back to the trail head.

Lastly, I will consult my map. Using the major land features (e.g., ridge lines, peaks, etc.) I will orient the map, determine my location (using terrain association) and direction of travel.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Walking Stick

Although the vast majority of walkers never even think of using a walking staff, I unhesitatingly include it among the foundations of the house that travels on my back. I still take my staff along almost as automatically as I take my pack. It is a third leg to me – and much more besides.” – Colin Fletcher, The Complete Walker III, 1984 (page 78)

by Leon Pantenburg

Most of us don’t think about including a walking stick in survival preparations. But for some, a sturdy walking stick should be a key component in any emergency gear.

Older people might need the stick to serve as a balancing tool. With training, the stick can be a formidable weapon. The stick can serve as one support for a tarp shelter. If you have to cross a stream, a wading staff can keep you from going into the water.

If you are wading out of your house in floodwaters, or picking your way through debris after a tornado, a sturdy stick can be very helpful.

Like most people I never gave any thought to using a walking stick, even though I read Fletcher’s books cover-to-cover several times. I backpacked and hiked more than a thousand miles without a stick, and never thought anything was missing.

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

Monday, June 4, 2012

Emergency Shelters by Kummerfeldt

By Peter Kummerfeldt

There may come a time when you have to spend a night out that you hadn’t planned on. It may be because of weather, darkness, injury or more commonly, getting lost! Regardless of the cause you are now faced with nine or ten hours of discomfort at best and, at worst, the loss of your life because of your lack of preparedness for the event.

No one wants to spend a cold, wet, hungry, lonely night out away from family and friends - but it happens! And it happens all to frequently. It happens to both to the experienced and the novice – none are immune from the possibility of having to survive cold temperatures, high winds and precipitation sitting out under a tree somewhere waiting for the sun to come up the next morning. It is more likely that the experienced person will be better equipped and ready for a night out.

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

Friday, June 1, 2012

Compass Navigation - Plotting Your Position

 A quality compass is an integral part of the backcountry navigator’s kit.  Sighting with a compass is an important skill that can determine direction to an object or help the hiker locate and identify his position in the backcountry.

This post discusses the steps to be taken to use a compass to plot one’s location on a topographic (topo) map in the back country.  In the vocabulary of navigation this is also known as “fixing” or determining “position.”

The first step is to ensure that the hiker has adequate maps both in quality and quanity.   I recommend carrying a set of maps that include 7.5’ United States Geological Survey (USGS) maps and a second map type such a United States Forest Service map.  The USGS map gives me the detailed information of the immediate area while the other map covers a much broader and larger area. 

Before heading for the trail, take a look at the maps at home.  Scouting from your desk allows you to find significant land features that will surround the direction of travel.  Features such as distinct mountain peaks, a stream, and a ridge line are just of few topographic “hand rails” that can be of value in the field.  By spending some time at home with the map the hiker develops a mental map, a mental picture of the trek in advance of the actual journey. 

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.  Declination information found at the bottom of a topographic map is frequently out of date.  Check the web site  for the current declination.

 “A compass is basically a magnet mounted on a pivot, free to turn in response to the pull of the earth’s magnetic field.  The housing protects the needle and helps you relate the direction in which the needle points to directions on the map and on the land.  A compass by itself can’t tell you where you are or what you are looking at but it can tell you about direction….”

Staying Found, The Complete Map & Compass Handbook, by June Fleming

Sighting with a compass allows the hiker to do several things.

First, sighting on a distant object can provide direction to that object and repeated sightings can provide course corrections along the way.  Secondly, with several sightings on different objects a person’s position can be determined and plotted.

Compass direction to an object is known as the “bearing” or azimuth.   Bearing is the more common term in outdoor recreation and is a term used heavily in GPS navigation.  For example, if a mountain peak is due north of you, the bearing to the peak is 000° (read as zero zero zero degrees.)  A compass can also assist the hiker by orienting a map and following a line of bearing taken from a map.

The picture below offers a quick review of the components of a baseplate compass.

To sight or take a bearing do the following:

  1. Using the owner’s manual, adjust the compass for declination.
  2. 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.)
  1. While holding the compass, turn the compass housing (the dial) and align the orienting arrow (a red arrow engraved in the rotating housing) underneath the red magnetic needle.

 To determine and plot or “fix” a position, the next step is to plot bearings on the map. In a “nut shell” this means that bearings to three clearly identifiable features are used.  Ideally, objects that have a bearing separation of 30° – 60°.  Good bearing separation provides better fixing information and plots on the map cleanly.  The bearings are then plotted on a map and where the three lines cross is the hiker’s location.  This complete process is called triangulation.

The following are suggestions for triangulating a position in the back country.

  1. Identify three (or more) distinct objects to sight on.  Note that the objects need to be on the topo of the area. 
  2. Orient the topo using the compass.  Orienting the topo means that the map’s left or right border is pointing to true north or 000° degrees true. 
  3. Sight on an object such as a mountain peak or church spire.  (Note that not many objects in the backcountry are so distinct and crisp.  Do the best with what you have.)  Ensure the direction of travel arrow is pointed towards the object.  Be as accurate as you can, point directly at the object.
  4. Turn the compass housing until the orienting arrow is directly under red magnetic needle.  Do not move or rotate the compass housing, keep the new bearing in place.
  5. At this point, and while plotting the bearing on the map, the compass will now be used like a protractor.  Importantly, the movement of the magnetic needle is not important.
  6. Lay the compass on the map with either the top left or right corner of the baseplate on the landmark.  This will be a pivot point while aligning the compass.

  1. With the edge of the baseplate in position, rotate the compass (swing) left or right until the N (north) of the compass housing aligns with map North (the top of the map.) 
  2. Draw a line (along the baseplate) from the object (e.g., the mountain peak) to your approximate area.  Draw a nice long line.
  3. Repeat the process two more times using other distant objects to sight on.
  4. Ideally the three lines will intersect in the immediate area; this is the hikers location.  But because of compass error and human error the point of intersection maybe spread out.  Still, triangulation will put you in the ballpark.  Use terrain association to help narrow down your position.