Map, Compass & GPS

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

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Leave No Trace

Philip Werner (over at has a great post on leave no trace (LNT).  We can all do better in the back country.

"When I see ash piled on the ground, a pile of rocks built up in a funky cairn, a hastily-built and scorched fire ring, or partially burned logs at a camp site, it immediately ruins the feeling of wildness I like to experience when camping in wilderness areas."

Werner goes beyond the basics found in most books and articles that talk about LNT.

To read his complete post go here.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Your Rescue - Timing is Everything

l enjoy and frequently check-out Michael Coyle’s excellent blog that is focused on Search and Rescue (SAR) missions and issues;  In a May post he discusses the need to call for backcountry rescue immediately.  In his post Coyle commented:

“….However, I’d like to stress that this rescue went so well because the guys called for help early in the process.    Of course it was not so early that we could get them out of there before night fell, but it was early enough that we could spot them from the air, and drop equipment to them…”

That caused me to pause and reflect on my own SAR experience.  During the fall and winter months, back country travelers need to request assistance as soon as possible. 

Most SAR members are volunteers.  Once the call goes out for a search or rescue, it takes time to assemble the teams necessary to accomplish the mission.  The mission planners will identify specific skill sets and the special teams that will be called upon.  It may take an hour or more for the volunteers to arrive, gather gear and get briefed.  Travel from the SAR base to the last known position takes time too.  Helicopter support is not always feasible. Waiting until late in the day generally pushes the response into darkness.  Darkness is not a searchers friend.  Delaying the call delays the response.

I recommend that once the hiker determines that they are lost immediately call 911 or activate a beacon (e.g., SPOT, inReach, etc.).  Give SAR the time to do the job right. 

If the hiker has cell phone connectivity call the county’s emergency dispatcher first. Only after that call has been made should one even think about calling family or friends.  Battery charge is critical.  The lost subject can expect multiple calls from the emergency dispatcher and maintaining the phones charge is vital.

Once the call has been made the hiker’s next step is to prepare the wind and water proof shelter.


Friday, July 26, 2013

Emergency Apps for Your Smart Phone

A few suggested applications for your phone.

This post is by Bryan Hill from the blog -  The Preparis Blog
"This week, Preparis focused on five of the best crisis management applications. For businesses, emergency preparedness plans are much more than just a binder on a shelf. Your incident management program needs to be a tested, practiced set of plans which all levels of your team are trained upon. Encouraging employees to download disaster recovery apps helps by enabling access to emergency plans, checklists, and response protocols helps establish a culture of preparedness within your organization."
To view the rest of the post go here.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Backpacking - Planning Your Escape Route


Pole Creek.jpg

Late last summer I worked with my Search and Rescue (SAR) team on a forest fire in the Pacific Northwest.  The team's mission was to help coordinate the potential evacuation of a small community and help Forest Service staff to assist stranded hikers.  Getting the hikers out safely was a priority.  Many hiking groups were met by local Ranger District staff well away from the fire to plan their exit.  Others self extracted.

Pole Creek 2.jpg
There were several lessons learned.  One has been to plan an escape route.  Develop the plan at home before hitting the trail.

The threat to the hiker ranges from fire, weather (snow, rain and wind) to a geologic event (earth quake).

When evaluating an escape route I recommend the hiker consider several elements. 

First, take a look at your topographic map and tail guides to determine potential escape routes.  Evaluate the terrain.  Are there barriers due to slope and vegetation?  This is especially true should the hiker need to “bush whack” cross country.  A conversation with a ranger can be invaluable.

Second, is the route achievable and realistic for you and your group?  Is your group fit, healthy and ready for such a hike? 

Third, are there sources of water along your route?  In some cases blue stream lines on a topographic map should be colored brown in the summer as stream beds dry up.

Forth, carry the right gear?  Does the day hiker have the ten essential in the pack?

Communicate your change of plans to friends and family.  Let that responsible person (designated to call 911 if you are late) know your plans too.

Don’t forget to fill out the trail permits when traveling in the backcountry.  These were invaluable to narrow down who was still in the backcountry.  In several cases, contact numbers were called to verify the safe return of a hiker.  Take this seriously. 


Thursday, July 18, 2013

GO Light in The Backcountry

Just how much gear do you carry in the backcountry?  Do you always seem to carry to much gear or do you leave too much behind?

Personally, I believe in the - keep it simple, reasonable man approach-  regarding what goes in my pack.
There are a lot of factors to consider.  Some might include:

  • Distance:  You might carry less for the long trip so as not to sacrifice food. 
  • How long will you be out.
  • You physical ability to carry a lot of gear.
  • Your ability to afford expensive light weight equipment.
The list could go on and on.

Brian Green's recent post at touches on this topic in detail.  

You might not agree with some of his suggestions.  That's OK.  Brian provides an excellent touch point for many future discussions with your hiking partner.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013


My friend Leon has a fine post on storing and caring for his paracord.

There are innumerable  uses for paracord, and a length of it goes in all my survival kits. Here’s how to keep it from becoming an unmanageable tangle.

by Leon Pantenburg

My wife, Debbie, and I had intended to combine a picnic with an afternoon deer hunt. We were going to stop at a cabin on a friend’s land, and Deb intended to sit on the porch and read a good book while I stillhunted the surrounding woods.

Have different lengths of paracord ready to go, and you can grab however much you think might be needed. I always carry a minimum of 25 feet, and usually carry about 150 feet.
Long story short, I didn’t need to go anywhere. As we were discussing the afternoon plans, a herd of deer passed on the nearby ridge. When an eight-point buck edged into the clearing, I dropped him in his tracks with a 145-grain bullet from my 7mm-08 Remington 700. The gear I had along was minimal: a hunting knife, firestarting kit, garbage bag and about 20 feet of paracord.

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

Managing Your GPS Waypoints

Dump the Junk
 Keeping your navigation simple is essential in the backcountry.  Dump the junk and get rid of those old waypoints.

Robin is one happy GPS user.  He has owned his Garmin GPS 60 for two years.  The Waypoint file is full of entries.  He had recorded hunting trips, camping expeditions with the kids, a few geocaches, and of course the favorite fishing spot.  His GPS receiver will hold 500 Waypoints and he has over 350 saved.  What a collection of data.  But is Robin really managing his Waypoints effectively?


 Lots of things can happen to a Waypoint or data file.  You can put data in. You can take data out.  You can lose it (the GPS breaks or the wrong button entry is selected.)  But be careful, far worse, too much data can make your navigation difficult.

 In my land navigation class I stress keeping your navigation simple.  Frequent and simple Waypoint management is essential to GPS use.  When it’s time to return to the truck, it should be obvious what Waypoint to select. 

 Dump the junk before the start of a trip.  As you leave the trail head your GPS should have only necessary data saved on your GPS.  That Waypoint for the fishing hole is important but needs to be saved elsewhere.

 Start by deleting Waypoints that really are not needed.  Free those data bites to the atmosphere.
To read the rest of the post go here.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

New From Garmin - Heads Up Display

The latest from Garmin is a Heads Up Display (HUD) matched to a GPS.

Garmin HUD
Garmin Photo

The following information is from's Antuan Goodwin.
Smartphones have pretty much taken over as the default navigation tool for many drivers. However, some locales (including our home state of California) have outright banned smartphone use in the car: no windshield mounts, no dashboard cradles. So, how are you going to get your turn-by-turn directions when looking at your phone is illegal? Today, Garmin announced a new way to interact with its StreetPilot and Navigon smartphone navigation apps: the HUD.
HUD -- short for head-up display -- sits on the dashboard at the base of the windshield, where it projects navigation data upward into the driver's line of sight, either onto a transparent film affixed to the windshield glass or a reflector lens that attaches to the HUD device. Both the film and reflector lens are included with the device.
To read the rest of the post go here.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Selecting a Magnetic Compass

The triad of wilderness travel is the GPS, map and compass. Don't take a GPS without a map and compass, and make sure you have the right map along.

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.
To read the rest of the post go here.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Determine 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.
To read the rest of the post go here.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

A Map Case - Is It Necessary?

Section Hiker (Phillip Werner) has a great post on making a case for a map case.

So, how do you carry your maps.  Sure, a zip-lock bag works well but is that the best??

See Phillip's post below:

"If you hike in England or Scotland, it’s pretty common to see hikers wearing a map case
around their neck. But map cases are relatively rare in the United States. They can be quite useful however if you have a lot of maps that you have to manage or you need to check them frequently because you are bushwhacking or hiking cross country – not something most Americans do though. They’re also quite practical if you need to carry a GPS, compass, and notebook and want a convenient way to keep everything together."

To read the rest of the post go here .

Customizing Your GPS - Part 3

Dan's detailed post continues regarding GPS set-up.
Setup Tips & Tricks
Now that you have your list of pages minimized to the essentials, let’s talk about a few options in the Setup menu that will enhance your navigation and optimize the performance of your GPS. Your Setup pages will vary depending on the features of your GPS so we’ll focus on the important ones here. Any others, as well as options not discussed in this section, can be set as you prefer. WARNING: Don’t change settings unless you completely understand the consequences of your changes as you could adversely impact your safety in the field!

First, in Setup > System > Satellite System, I would recommend setting this to GPS. GPS + GLONASS may be slightly more accurate (especially in canyoneering) and lock onto satellites more quickly, but this is at the expense of decreased battery life. Same thing with WAAS/EGNOS—turn it off. Speaking of batteries, you ARE using Lithium-Ion batteries in your device, aren’t you? If not, stop reading this right now and go out and buy some. (Yes, I know they’re expensive. However, they’re lighter, more powerful, better in cold weather and longer-lasting than the other options. Also, while you’re at the store, buy some extras and make sure to take them with you when you go out in the field!)

Now that you’re back and have put the new batteries in your device, change the Battery Type option to Lithium. Leave the USB Mode setting on Mass Storage. Go back to Setup > Display and change the Backlight Timeout to 15 seconds (once again, to help conserve battery life).

Setup > Tones
Do you like driving everyone within earshot crazy? If so, leave your Tones on. Otherwise, turn ‘em off (at least turn off the Key Beep.) Turn Warnings and Proximity Alarms are more for auto navigation so we’ll ignore them here.

Setup > Map
Set Orientation to Track Up and change the Data Fields to “One” (it’s up to you which data field you want to display on the Map page. Personally, I find “Location (selected) to be the most useful as it provides an easy-to-read display of your current coordinates.)

Setup > Tracks
Change the Recording Interval to Less Often (you will still get plenty of track points with this option, so don’t worry about that.)

Setup > Position Format
UTM UPS or Degrees Decimal are most common. For your Map Datum, MAKE SURE that whatever you set matches what’s on your map. If you don’t see this information on your map, you are probably looking at a Denny’s place mat. Go get a real map and then set this. It should then set the Map Spheroid for you. If you don’t believe in maps, set it to WGS 84, take extra batteries and hope you don’t get lost.

Setup > Profiles
A Profile is a way to save all of the customizations that you’ve made. Click Create Profile and you should see the following screen.

Click OK and you will see your new profile in the list with a generic name like “Profile 2”. Click on the name of this profile and rename it to something descriptive that describes the name of your position format and map datum, such as “UTM WGS84”.


Click on the Create Profile button again and OK to confirm the profile creation. Do this one more time so now you have three profiles.

Your two new profiles are copies of the first one you created. What we’re going to do next is edit one of them to be a generic “factory default” and then edit the other profile to be a customized profile that uses a different position format and map datum. Choose the second profile in the list and rename it to something like “Default – All Options”. Now choose the third profile in the list and rename it to “Decimal NAD27 CONUS” (this is the datum most commonly found on USGS 7.5 minute topo maps).

The profile you just renamed is the currently active one (since it was the last one that was copied). Click the Back button to return to the Setup screen and change the Position Format to hddd.ddddd and the Map Datum to NAD27 CONUS.

One of the limitations of the GPS display is that it’s not immediately apparent which profile you are currently using. This can have serious impacts on your navigation. A good way to remind you which profile you are using is to change the color scheme of each profile so that they all look different. In Setup > Display > Colors, change the Day Color Scheme and Night Color scheme to something other than the defaults (I would recommend choosing the same for Day/Night). For example:

When you’re done, click the Back button until you’ve returned to your (customized) Main Menu with your 9 tiles (pages).