Map, Compass & GPS

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

Thursday, October 31, 2013

GPS Setup - Calibrating The Electronic Compass

Recently I held a GPS navigation seminar at a Sportsman’s show in Central Oregon.
At one point during the seminar one man described the inaccuracy of his GPS and asked what he could do about it.  He was frustrated that on several occasions while returning to camp the GPS compass arrow (while in the “Find,” “Where to” mode) was providing unreliable information.  He’d arrive in camp and the receiver would direct him in a new direction and distance.
As he related his story, I noticed that several other attendees nodded in agreement that they too had the same problem.  I asked the fellow if he had ever calibrated the electronic compass.  “Yes, when I first got the GPS,” was his reply.
When I explained that the electronic compass should be calibrated after EVERY battery change, the group’s response was one of surprise.
To read the complete article go here.

Tips for Hiking During the Hunting Season

Recommendations for a safe hike.

The following post is by Rebecca Walsh at  Good info. 

"Just because it’s autumn doesn’t mean that hiking season is over. In fact in many parts of the United States hiking is at its best once the temperature drops and the leaves change color.

However, in most parts of the United States hiking during the fall also means sharing the wilderness with hunters. Here are a few tips for hiking safely during hunting season."

To read the rest of the post go here

I will add to Rebecca's recommendations that it is extremely important to file a trip plan to be left with a responsible person.  For more information on a trip plan review my post here.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Dead Reckoning - An Important Navigation Tool

It is time to return to base camp.  Navigation during this trip has been by map and compass alone; no GPS.  During the three days of the outing, navigation was straightforward and simple.  Visibility was excellent and compass triangulation worked well.  Now as the return trip is about to begin, fog has rolled in, masking terrain features.  The absence of a reliable trail system will make the return trip challenging as well; travel will be overland.
A process called Dead Reckoning (DR) can be used to navigate and partially compensate for the loss of terrain features and important visual cues. DR is a method used to determine one’s estimated present and future position. Dead Reckoning can be done during periods of darkness, bad weather, in featureless terrain (e.g., the desert, whiteout conditions) or equipment failure (e.g., dead GPS batteries.)
To read the complete post go here.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Choosing a Wilderness Survival School

How do you pick and choose a survival school or an instructor that is right for you?

During my wilderness survival classes I am frequently asked about finding a multi day,
hands on and rigorous survival course of instruction.

There are a few schools in the Pacific Northwest that cover backcountry survival, GPS navigation and primitive sustainability.  Generally I direct folks to Peter Kummerfeldt's summer program because I know that his instruction is first rate and based on years of experience; visit

I frequently visit the web site  There is a thread running now that discusses vetting a survival instructor.  One response was by  Bruce Zawalsky who is the Chief Instructor at the Boreal Wilderness Institute.  The institute can be visited through their web site

Bruce has several thoughtful articles posted on the site that outlines how to become a survival instructor (instructor), instructor development (development) and choosing an instructor (credible).

I also learned of a web site that lists many survival schools throughout the US; schools.

Monday, October 21, 2013

First Aid Kit for the Trail

What kind of first aid kit do you carry?  Is your kit complete? 

The following post is by Erika K at  Erika is an accomplished long distance hiker in her own right.

"What’s in your first aid kit? It might vary based on your health, your concerns and your hiking location."

"Your kit might look nothing like mine. You might be prepared for things that I am not and vice versa. The group of things here are meant to make you think about trail emergencies and the items you might use to handle them. Some people are comfortable sewing up a gaping wound with used fishing line and a fish hook. Others might lose their cookies at the sight of blood. Whatever you decide to pack, pay attention the terrain you will be travelling in, the weather, and how near (or far) you will be from help, should you need it. If you are out overnight and slice yourself open so you can’t walk, it may be 24 hours or more before Search and Rescue can get to you. These are merely suggestions."

The following is what my SAR team requires as a minimum; go here.

A good first aid kit complements the "ten essentials." 

Friday, October 18, 2013


Philip Werner over at has a fine post about bushwacking in the backcountry of New England.  There are several points that we can all learn from Philip's post.

"I am feeling sore all over today. I’m surprised because our bushwhack over to Southwest Twin Mountain turned out to be easier than we expected. Still bushwhacking is much more strenuous than regular trail hiking and we had a long hike out which must explain it." From Philip Werner's post.

To read his complete post go here.

Mini Survival Kits

What good is a mini survival kit? Five things they can’t do.

Mini, pocket sized survival kits are in every outdoors store. But, really, what good are they?

by Leon Pantenburg

Several years ago, the editor at the newspaper I worked at tasked me to write a practical winter survival guide for Central Oregon. It was an investigative reporting assignment, and I interviewed local experts from the Deschutes

County Search and Rescue, as well as local survival equipment tester, the late Jim Grenfell, and internationally-known survival expert Peter Kummerfeldt.

The end result of months of research and testing was a system that included a personal, pocket-sized kit as well as a complete backpack setup for hardcore winter survival. (No survival kit system is perfect, and no kit will work for everyone. View any system as a baseline for developing a kit that will work for you.)

The pocket-sized kit, which was designed to fit into an Altoids tin, drew some fire from the local “survival guru” due in part to his not reading the entire story and the warnings.

To read the rest of this post, visit Leon's web site here.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Why Humans Get Lost

Tia Ghose is a Live Science staff writer who authored an interesting article (March 2013)
titled Why Humans Get Lost.  Through interviews and case studies she evaluates what causes hikers to get lost in the backcountry.  She identifies that in some case carelessness is a contributor as is our loss of the natural ways of navigating by the stars and sun.  At one point in a section of the article called “Use it or Lose IT” she states:

“But the sense of direction may also wither with disuse. Small studies have found that using a GPS for just a few hours seems to impair people's navigational skills in the short term, …many people get lost because they simply aren't paying attention….”

In navigation classes and seminars I frequently comment that navigation is a perishable skill.  It is a skill that requires practice and thought.  Navigation skills are not instinctive but are learned and developed.

Today, the principle components of backcountry navigation consist of:

1.    A declination adjustable magnetic compass

2.    A quality map

3.    A GPS receiver

Your grandfather’s compass was a wonderful tool in its day but should be replaced by a declination adjustable compass.  Such a compass eliminates the guess work associated with calculating for declination.  Viable compasses are made by Brunton, Suunto, and Silva.

For example, the Suunto M2 can quickly be adjusted for declination by the movement of a set screw to cause the rotating compass dial to turn.   With such adjustment the rotating dial provides information in degrees true and now matches the map.  (Keep in mind that the red magnetic needle still points to magnetic north.)

Quality maps can be found at your local outdoor retailer in several forms.  For example,s National Geographic publishes traditional paper maps and also offers mapping software listed by individual states.  I also recommend’s Map Pass.  A $30 annual subscription lets you print maps at home on your PC.  It is a robust option that allows the user to select map scale, aerial imagery and grid (e.g., latitude and longitude or UTM).

Topographic maps provide a sense of the “lay of the land.”  The lay of the land includes the
rise and fall of ground topography, the location and direction of water sources and manmade travel aids such as roads and trails.  These maps also identify hand rails..  Hand rails are the hiker’s visual cues of the land.  Hand rails include linear features such as roads, streams, ridgelines, trails and fence lines. Hand rails must be visible on the map to be of use.

Before departing on a wilderness trek, careful studying of the map coupled with a compass is the first step in developing a mental map.

National Geographic’s educational web site suggest that mental maps are:

“Mental maps provide people with essential means of making sense of the world and of storing and recalling information about the patterns of Earth’s physical and human features. These maps represent ever-changing summaries of spatial knowledge and are indicators of how well people know the spatial characteristics of places

A mental map is the ability to remember key land marks and their features.  For example, remembering that to the east of the ridgeline trail, is a steep drainage with a slow moving stream, a stream that flows adjacent to a camp site.  It takes practice but such study develops the hikers mind and makes navigation a bit more logical in the field.



Monday, October 14, 2013

How Accurate is Your GPS

Just how accurate is your GPS?

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.

The graphic below tells an interesting story. 

Through the center of the topographic map, marked with dashed lines is the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) in Oregon’s Cascades mountain range.  Next to the trail is my track log (in red) downloaded from my GPS to my Terrain Navigator software.  The track log is my electronic path calculated by the receiver. 

I walked on the PCT the entire time.  My GPS receiver was in a holster attached to the shoulder straps of my backpack.  The receiver’s antenna was exposed but only received data from my front and straight up, my chest blocked signals from behind my back.

As the green of the map indicates I was in a forested area. Tree canopy was moderately thick and may have interfered with signal reception.

To read the rest of the post go here.


A California hunter survives for 19 days in the wilderness before being rescued.

From CNN; go here.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

A Coordinate System for Your GPS

What coordinate system should you use with your GPS receiver?  Latitude and Longitude is fine but check out UTM's so SIMPLE

I have received a few emails about what coordinate system to use with a GPS?

Coordinate system refers to the geographic grid used on a map; Latitude and Longitude is a coordinate system.  The GPS receiver may call it position format.
My recommendation would be to consider:
1.    When traveling outside of the United States find out what system the visited country uses.  The GPS receiver has coordinate systems pre-loaded for many countries around the world.

a.    On a Garmin select “Setup” then select “Units” (below).

To read the rest of the article go here.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Hiker's Trip Plan

A hiker's trip plan and an essential part of the planning for a backcountry hunt or hike.  Never leave home without leaving one behind. 

Recently I attended one of Peter Kummerfeldt’s seminars titled Getting Rescued Quickly.

From the “get go” Peter talked about the importance of a trip plan.  The trip plan is like a pilot’s flight plan.  It outlines the essentials of a backcountry journey.  The plan should be left with several responsible people, people who will notify the authorities should the hiker fail to return.

The trip plan need not be too complex.  As a minimum a trip plan should provide:

1.    The names of those in the party.

2.    Contact data for those in the party.

3.    Vehicle identification.

4.    Medical conditions

5.    Geographic coordination information where the party plans to enter the wilderness, park a vehicle and point of exit.

6.    Identify what livestock and pets that may be with the party.

7.    Next of kin information.
A sample trip plan can be found here.
A related post about getting lost and how to avoid such a situation can be found here.


Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Couple Lost in the Texas Desert Found

A Texas couple are found in the backcountry days after becoming lost
From CBS news:
"When Cathy Frye and her husband Rick McFaralnd arrived at Big Bend Ranch state park last Wednesday, they set out for what was supposed to be an afternoon hike, but by nightfall they were lost and in trouble.

"We discovered that there had been quite a bit of rain and what looked to be flash flooding that had knocked a lot of the trail markers out of the way," said Frye.

Tired and out of water the couple had no choice but to spend the night outside."

And they spent several days outside.

I have to wonder what kind of gear they had with them?  The ten essentials, don't leave home with out them.

To read the rest of the CBS post go here

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Marking a GPS Waypoint

Learn the key techniques to mark and save a GPS waypoint.  The idea is to keep your navigation simple and you waypoints meaningful.

The solo hiker was ready to return to the car after a long day on the trail. The weather was slowly degrading; it was getting cooler and overcast. It was time to march to the car. He pulled out the GPS, selected the “Find” feature and scanned the waypoint listing. No waypoint. Nothing to identify his car was shown. Now that sinking feeling slowly crept in. It was going to be a longer afternoon.

Marking a waypoint takes just a few button pushes. The process ends with the saving of coordinates, elevation, date, time of entry and a name into the memory of a GPS.

My recommendations to mark a waypoint include the following steps.

Start with a quick look at the “satellite view” page (below). Ensure the GPS is tracking four or more satellite signals.

To read the rest of the post go here.

To read another post on GPS Navigation go here.