Map, Compass & GPS

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

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Map App for Oregon Hunters

I came across an article in the BendBulletin on Monday.

Oregon's Department of Fish and Wildlife has developed a map App of the state.

The link to the  App is at the top of the web site.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Buying A New Compass

Silva Ranger  - Outdoor Quest Image
There are several things to keep in mind when buying a compass.

My preferred compass is a declination adjustable sighting compass like the trail proven “Silva Ranger.” (Silva, Brunton and Suunto all make good compasses.) The key is that this type of compass can be adjusted for magnetic declination and that keeps your wilderness navigation simple. You can expect to pay roughly $35.00 - $60.00; a cheap compass will not serve the hiker well.

My experience is that most sales clerks are compass illiterate and have little navigation experience.  While looking at a compass ask the clerk to remove it from the plastic container/packaging.  Check the compass to ensure:

  1. The dial moves freely and does not stick.  There are no bubbles internal to the compass housing.
  2.  Information engraved on the base plate must be legible.  If there is a magnifying glass verify that it is clear and not scratched. 
  3. The tick marks on the dial are in two degree increments.  The tick marks should be readable.
  4. The base plate, rotating dial assembly, and mirror are not chipped or broken.  
  5. The sighting assembly hinge allows freedom of movement without excess side to side movement at the hinge .

 Packaging should clearly state that the compass is declination adjustable.  Adjustable compasses may have a small metal tool that allows for setting the declination.  If the packaging states that the compass has declination marking but does not use the word adjustable move to another model.

After purchase visit the website to determine the declination of the area the hiker will be traveling through.

Remember that the red magnetic needle will always point to magnetic north.  With a declination adjustable compass the rotating dial has been adjusted so that the information provided by the compass is now in degrees true.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Monitoring the Weather - Weather Systems

Monitoring  and tracking the weather is a great backcountry skill.  Here is another method to consider.

Last June SeattleBackPackersMagazine posted a short article on tracking barometric pressure with a GPS; barometric pressure.  Recently my son reminded me of a little known theorem that helps the hiker’s situational awareness.  This theorem is called Buys-Ballot’s Law.

In 1857 Dutch professor Christopher Buys Ballot postulated that there was a relationship between wind direction and air pressure. Buys-Ballot’s law provides a rough approximation of the location and direction of the low pressure system as it tracks through a region.

Simply put in the northern hemisphere, if one faces the wind, the center of a low pressure system will be to the right and slightly behind the observer.  High pressure will be to the left and slightly ahead of the observer.   Further, weather systems in the northern hemisphere track from west to east.  

Importantly for the hiker, a low pressure system is associated with rain, snow and bad weather in general.  A high pressure system is associated with improving weather conditions.

So, if the hiker determines that high pressure is to the west of the present location, and because the system will move from west to east, the weather may be improving.

The YouTube video by meteorologist Vince Condella presents this nicely; video

Buys-Ballots Law coupled with a GPS are both useful tools to improve the hiker’s ability to monitor and anticipate the weather in the backcountry.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Monitoring the Weather

In a recent post, I recieved a comment by Alex about his site regarding the weather in the High Sierras.

This site is impressive and Alex has done a lot of nice work.

Visit Alex's web site.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Monitoring the Weather In The Backcountry

While serving at sea in the Navy in the 1970's I learned the importance of monitoring barometric
pressure.  Many of the new GPS receivers can track barometric pressure.
Barometric pressure data is important because it gives the hiker an idea of how the weather is developing and changing.   Monitoring barometer using GPS allows you to know more about your weather in the back country My personal choice for a GPS is the Garmin GPSMap60CS receiver, and here’s what I do.
In the back country, keeping yourself aware of pressure changes gives you more time to plan, improvise and re-evaluate your situation. Today, I continue to keep a sharp eye on the weather before an outing and while in the field. At home I frequently check my internet sources such as and the National Weather Service’s site  and watch the weather reports each morning.  At a base camp I have a radio capable of receiving the NOAA broadcasts.
Read the complete post at Seattlebackpackersmagazine.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Finding Direction Without A Compass

Ever hit the trail with out a compass or your compass is broken?  Check out my latest post on the Seattlebackpackersmagazine site.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Winter Survival

Section Hiker has a very timely post on winter survival.

"Winter is when the training wheels come off for hikers, climbers, and backcountry skiers. When all of the planning and preparation you did before your trip won’t help you get out of the jam you’re in. When your buddy hits his head on a tree skiing down a backcountry route or a big chunk of falling ice takes out your belayer. When you fall through an ice ledge on a river soaking your winter boots and clothes or a whiteout smothers the peak you’re climbing and a winter storm blows in. "

His short article on fire starting is right on the mark.  Visit Section Hiker.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

GPS Software Updates

Is your GPS receiver running with the latest software update?

I receive a monthly newsletter from  As the site address implies, this is a group located in the United Kingdom.  Their site is packed with lots of info; so too is their news letter.

Their latest post caught my eye and is worth forwarding:

"Good manufacturers offer regular free updates for the software in your device as well     as any supporting software on your PC/Mac like Basecamp; it’s in their interest as much as yours. Why? Because updates as well as offering access to new features are a useful way to fix software glitches and often a new update raises new glitches which means another update!!"

I recommend that GPS users update their receivers every few months.  Also, I'd suggest that before uploading new mapping software this be done too.  Simply put, an upgrade keeps your receiver current and provides corrections to software issues.

For those with older, discontinued models there may be no updates.  Contact your manufacturer's website to resolve any issue.

Emergency Shelter

The following is Peter Kumerfeldt's post on emergency shelter options.

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 under a tree waiting for the sun come up the next morning. It is more likely that the experienced person will be better equipped and ready for a night out. It is also true that more experienced people, based on their know-how and past successes are prone to over-estimating their skills and abilities to spend a night out and underestimate the impact of the environment and the weather on their ability to survive.

To read the rest of Peter's post visit his blog here.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The North Star - A Star to Guide Us

The North Star is a beacon that we can use to guide us in the backcountry.  Few hikers use the celestial bodies in the night sky to navigate by.  But on a clear night, the night sky provides a feature that is an excellent source of direction.  It doesn’t matter if it is June or November, if you are in Wyoming or Oregon.

For the backcountry hiker consider that Polaris is fixed in position over the northern pole.  Unique from other celestial stars and planets, Polaris is very closely aligned to the earth’s axis.  Stars and planets rotate around Polaris.  And like the sun, this rotation is from east to west through the sky.  Polaris will be found approximately half way between the northern horizon and straight overhead.  In the northern hemisphere, Polaris can found in our northern sky and is never more 1° from true north – the North Pole. 

Constellations help locate Polaris.  Cassiopeia and the Big Dipper point to Polaris.  Uniquely, Cassiopeia, the Big Dipper and Little Dipper can be seen in relation to Polaris year round.  In winter, the constellation of Orion will also help locate Polaris.

Figure 1.  The Pointing Stars point to Polaris

In the case of the Big Dipper (above), an imaginary line is drawn from the two pointer stars to Polaris.

 Polaris will be found about at a distance of five times the space between the two pointing stars.

Another view of Polaris and adjacent constellations is seen below.

So what does this do for the hiker?

The essence is that Polaris is another visual handrail at night.  In an earlier post, I discussed the process of orienting a topographic map.  Large terrain features were identified as “backcountry handrails.” (Handrails can include roads, railroad beds, ridgelines, power transmission lines and streams.) Handrails help align the map and give the traveler a sense of relationship to the topography both on the map and what is nearby.  For example, if the hiker determines that Butler Butte will always be to the left and west of the trail then that butte becomes a visual aid for navigation. At night geographic features may not be quite so visible and distinct.  So on a clear dark night Polaris can aid the wilderness navigator by providing direction to true north.

This visual reference compliments a magnetic compass.  (Ideally the hiker uses a declination adjustable magnetic compass.)

It's always right there in the same place (even if you can't see it at the moment) and doesn't require batteries.

Cloud cover and forest canopy will limit the ability to navigate and use Polaris.  If Polaris is completely obscured but some sky is visible, attempt to find east.  Like the sun, stars and planets rotate through the sky from east to west.  Find a star and monitor its movement over a period of a few minutes.  Once you’ve determined where east is, north is to the left.

Like all navigation skills, using the night sky takes practice.  Before heading out on your next adventure, practice at home, look for Polaris at varying times. Observe the star’s relationship to the other celestial bodies.

Here is another post on the North Star from my local newspaper.

Here are a couple of good references:

  • June Fleming’s book Staying Found is a fine reference about backcountry navigation. 

  • Google’s Sky Map

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Invasive Species - Robbing You Blind

This information comes from a North American Hunter email; this is worth repeating.  Oregon suffers from people releasing bait fish in pristine trout water each year.

Few hunters these days remember the years of market waterfowl hunting. Skies once black with migrating ducks and geese were harvested by the millions to supply food and feathers for a growing country, and many species suffered from overharvest as a result. However, through extensive conservation efforts by concerned and motivated sportsmen, skies are again filling with wildlife.

Today, there’s a new threat to our nation’s waterfowl: invasive species. Foreign plants, animals and diseases threaten our fish and wildlife. They decrease habitat, create a malady of disease and illness, and are a leading cause for endangered species listing.

Each year, thousands of waterfowl die due to the impacts of zebra and quagga mussels, New Zealand mudsnails, and faucet snails. Unknowingly, these non-native species often hitchhike on waterfowl boats and gear, from one honey-hole to another.

The good news is that, as hunters, we have a tradition founded in conservation. If—together—we clean, drain and dry our boats, trailers and equipment—even hunting dogs—we can stop the spread of the foreign invaders. It’s our duty.

  • Clean: Boats, trailers, boots and hunting equipment. Remove all mud and plants. Don’t transport weeds.
  • Drain: Boats, motors and decoys—anything that holds water.
  • Dry: Equipment for 5 days and/or wash with high pressure, hot water.

Do your part to conserve America’s great waterfowl hunting tradition. Remember: Clean, drain and dry to stop aquatic hitchhikers. You owe it to yourself, fellow hunters and the speicies you love.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Baseline Compass Navigation

Baseline navigation is a fundamental map and compass skill.  It is a process of using terrain and land features to the hiker’s advantage.

Outdoor Quest image
Returning to a baseline is a pretty straight forward concept.  The idea is that you leave camp from a known location and strike out in a specific direction such as North, or 000°.  When it is time to return aim to the left or right of camp (like 165°T), hit the logging road camp is on and turn right.  That is the concept but there is a bit more to it.

Let’s go over the tools you need and the process of how it works in more detail.

The essence of backcountry navigation is to keep it simple.  If you are new to compass navigation, having a compass that can be adjusted for declination keeps things simple.  

(Though the red magnetic needle still points to magnetic north, the rotating dial (that has been adjusted) now provides information in degrees true.  A compass that is aligned to degrees true now works well with the traditional topographic map that is oriented to degrees true as well.  Take a look at June Fleming’s book Staying Found or visit

The next tool is your map.  USGS topographic maps and National Geographic maps of the major national parks are great examples of what works well in the backcountry.  (Let’s leave the Gazetteer or AAA road map at home.)  I’ll also carry a copy of the Forest Service or BLM map because they will provide a broad overview of the area.

On the map, locate what will be the base line.  A baseline can be a road, river or trail.  Key to the selection is that you want a baseline of sufficient length.  It must also be obvious when you approach the baseline; it needs to be distinct.  Do not overshoot the baseline and keep on walking.

So let’s take a look at a map and develop a baseline.

The red arrows on the map above point to a road.  This road travels in a general direction of Northwest - Southeast.  Further, the road travels for many miles in either direction. 

Think of the baseline as a geographic boundary.  The baseline is designed to keep the hiker  within a specific area.

The map above  is of the same location but it has been zoomed in for clarity.
Notice the location of camp to the east of the baseline; the road.  Notice that the planned destination has been added.  The destination is to the Northeast of camp.  Roughly the destination bears 070°T (T for degrees true) from Camp.

The intent now is to travel from Camp to Destination.

Outdoor Quest Image
At this point, adjust the compass such that the adjustable outer dial is rotated to 070°T and is aligned with the direction of travel arrow or index line.  

Now proceed towards the destination.  You have the option of looking down range in the direction of “Destination” or monitoring the compass the entire length of the hike; that is a bit tedious.

Note that in a hike such as this you are going to the general location of the area you want to be in.  If you decide to go to a specific, defined location you must triangulate with a compass to fix your position, use pace count or use a GPS.

It is the return hike to camp that will take advantage of the baseline. Rather than trying to go directly back to camp offset the direction of travel to the south. Roughly one will travel in a direction of 230°T.

The key point is that the hiker will knowingly head south of camp to intersect the baseline.
Of course the option of going north of camp on a direction of 280°T could be considered too.


Upon arriving at the baseline turn right and follow the road back to camp.
That’s it.

Remember the cautions mentioned earlier:

  1. The baseline must be of sufficient length.
  2. The baseline must be obvious when you reach it.  If you are in an area of multiple trails or logging road think carefully if your choice is going to work for you.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

GPS Black Friday Sale

GPS sales starting for Black Friday.

Looking for a place that highlights GPS receivers that are on sale --- visit GPStracklog.  Select GPS Deals at the top.

The other place to look is at GPSCity.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Compass Deviation

Compass deviation is not declination.  As a Royal Australian Naval Officer told me years ago, "it is man's earthly sins" that give us deviation.  So just what is it?

Deviation is the deflection of a compass' magnetic needle due to natural or man made interference.

Natural deviation is cause by iron or nickel deposits near the surface of the earth.  Such deflection may also be called "natural attraction."  Further, on a small scale, natural objects such as belt buckles, and rifle barrels may also cause error too.

Man made deviation is caused by electrical circuitry (e.g., florescent lighting), the electronics of a car, significant power line systems and the body of a vehicle.  Notice that being inside a structure will also impact and deflect the magnetic compass needle too.

Over the 15 years of teaching compass navigation I have had two or three people tell me that they had wrapped their compass' lanyard around GPS and compass  and left the intertwined units on the dashboard of their truck.  They claimed that this effected the polarity of the magnetic needle.  Interesting to consider.

So, how is the deflection removed or canceled?  Move.  Move away from the power lines, move the rifle barrel and other ferrous objects. (Move at least a hundred feet from power lines.)

Saturday, November 22, 2014


I just built my facebook page for Outdoor Quest.

Please check it out here.  Feedback welcome.

Rescue Beacons

I came across this article by Jessi Loerch of the "Washington Times Herald Writer" about rescue beacons.  Worth your consideration.

"Lisa Jo Frech was five days into a 10-day, 170-mile hike on the Pacific Crest Trail near Glacier Peak when she passed out. She’s an experienced hiker, had trained hard for the trail and was feeling strong up to that point.
Oh, well, she figured, sometimes people faint."
Lisa's condition deteriorates.

To read the rest of Jessi's article go here.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Gear Check Lists

While in the Navy I learned the value of a good, user friendly check list.  Brian Green (at Brian's Backpacking Blog has a interesting post about checklists.  At the end of his post he shares a blank template.  Good stuff.

"In addition to using a gear list to track weight it can be used as a checklist tool to help you gather, inspect, and pack all of your gear before a trip. There’s nothing worse than getting a few miles into a hike and realizing that you left a critical piece of gear at home on the kitchen table. Your gear list will help you to avoid that from happening. I have three check box columns on the left of the spreadsheet I use that are designed to walk me through the this process: Find, Check, Pack." 

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

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Backcountry Stoves in Cold Weather.

Check out Hikin Jim's latest post on cold weather stoves.

The Jetboil Joule – Preview
I've been loaned a Jetboil Joule for the purposes of conducting a review.  I haven't started the review process just yet (I'm still working on the new MSR Windboiler), but I thought I'd post some photos and make a few remarks.

The Jetboil Joule is a powerhouse of a stove, designed for snow melting and cold weather.  It's an inverted canister stove which gives it a 20 Fahrenheit degree cold weather advantage over regular upright canister stoves.
He always has great information.  To read his complete post go here

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Navigating At Night In The Backcountry

This is a rather technical  overview of navigating at night.  Proper preparation is essential.

Navigation during periods of exceptional darkness and reduced visibility is a serious issue for the hiker.

Important navigation features (e.g., mountains, roads, forest, etc.) can be nearly impossible to see.  The impact is a significant loss of geographic reference used for daytime travel.  Geographic reference validates the hiker’s map.

Further compounding the nighttime challenge is the physiology of the eye. Our eyes are designed to provide optimal performance during periods of light.  The components of the eye (the retina, rods and cones) are arranged specific to their function.  The cones are the discriminators of fine detail and color.  Cones are the most effective in light. In complete darkness, a cones’ effectiveness is significantly reduced.  Rods are important to our night time vision.

What that translates to is this:  in periods of extreme darkness, the ability to see with clarity straight ahead is significantly diminished. If you absolutely must continue traveling at night, the hiker should first make an effort to become adapted to the night environment.  Avoid looking at any white light. Select a member of your group to follow behind you with the GPS and flashlight/headlamp, as its light will negatively impact your vision.

Red light is now best.  Allow 15-30 minutes for the eyes to become adjusted; older hikers may need almost one hour.  Continue to protect the now adapted eyes from sources of bright illumination; discuss this with the other members of the group before embarking.
To maximize clarity, the lead hiker will need to scan the surroundings (by turning their head side to side) rather than looking directly at objects.  This is where prior map study, commonly known as having a “mental map” will pay off significantly.

Navigation procedures are essentially the same as during daylight.  Global Positioning Systems (GPS) lose no capability and will continue to direct the hikers as before.  Do note that the display screens backlight capability do not have red lighting, only white, and use will quickly degrade battery life.  Always carry spare batteries.

Without a GPS, the navigator has the option of navigating by a process known as dead reckoning.   Dead reckoning is the careful application of map and compass by evaluating azimuths and distance by pacing.

Navigating at night is challenging, potentially dangerous, and requires a high level of knowledge.  Confidence from lots of practice performing these skills is essential.   Practicing at night is strongly recommended before heading out to the wilderness.  

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Final Update on Missing Oregon Climber

Sadly the missing climber was recovered by Lane County SAR/Eugene Mountain Rescue this afternoon.

SURVIVAL Top 10 Survival Tips Every Hiker Should Know

I was searching the web for some information on hiking and came across the post.

By Alexander Davies:

"If you’re planning on going hiking sometime soon, that’s terrific — it’s a great way to get exercise, push your limits, and connect with the natural world. But like any outdoor activity, it comes with its share of dangers: weather, wild animals, poisonous plants, and so on. So if you want to get into the great outdoors and make it home again, brush up on these 10 hiking safety tips."
This is a quick read. 

To read the complete post go here

Land Navigation Errors

Land Navigation is a very perishable skill.  It is a skill that takes practice.  As a SAR team member I find that all to often people who get lost in the back country don't have that skill or the equipment.

In 2012 I came across a blog dedicated to land navigation.  Lyle Brotherton had a super post on the 12 most common errors navigators make. I will highlight just a few his points.

  • Compass deviation - Keep ferrous objects away from the compass body.  Items such as rifle barrels, watches, ice axes and some electronics will impact compass accuracy.
  • Declination - Keep your navigation simple and buy a declination adjustable compass like the Silva Ranger; that's a great compass for the price.  Verify your declination and visit for current data.  Many maps are dated and present declination information that is out of date. 
  • Orient the map - Orient your topographic map at the trailhead and at trail junctions.  The map and its features (terrain, streams, man made objects) should correlate with the ground that is laid out before you.  If terrain and map do not agree pause until they do.  For more information on orienting a map go here.

  • Compass bearings - Keep your compass close at hand.  When shooting a bearing turn your body to the bearing don't just turn the compass base plate.  For more information about shooting a bearing go here.

  • Terrain Clues -  Key terrain features such as mountain peaks, trails, waterways and
    elevation should be compared regularly.  This begins at home before striking out.  Study the map to develop a mental image of the backcountry route; his pays off once in the field.
  •  GPS receivers - A few recommendations:
    1. Keep fresh batteries in your receiver
    2. Delete old waypoints that haven't been used recently
    3. Give important waypoints a name such as camp or truck
    4. Calibrate the electronic compass after changing batteries 
    5. Delete the old track log (the bread crumb trail) via the track manager
To read Lyle Brotherton's complete post  go here.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Update on Missing Climber

A break in the weather Saturday allowed search teams to resume the hunt for an avid Bend mountain climber who fell, possibly hundreds of feet, while descending the Middle Sister late Wednesday night.

Mountain Climber Lost in the Central Oregon Cascades Range

An party of two climbed the Middle Sister mountain in Oregon's Cascade range.  Both were experience climbers.  Sadly one climber stumbled and slid hundereds of feet downt the mountain.  Degrading weather halted search efforts.

To read the post from KTVZ go here.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

What Map Datum Do I Use?

What is the best Map Datum to use with your GPS receiver?

I was questioned about this recently in a GPS class.  What is the best datum?

It just depends on what the hiker is going to do.  If one is going to plot coordinates on a map then the datum (in the  USA) to use is NAD27 CONUS (Continental United Sates.)  This matches the map best.

Receivers come from the factory set to WGS 84.  WGS 84 isn't the best datum to use with older maps.  That said, mapping software (Terrain Navigator PRO) and www.caltopo can shift to WGS 84.  Day hikers can feel comfortable using WGS 84 anytime.  Cell phones use WGS 84 too.

For more information about map datum go here.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Adventures in Stoving

This is one web site you need to bookmark.

Jim has a dozens of reviews on stoves for the hiker.

Find adventures in stoving here.

Wolves in Washington State

The following is from the Washington Department of Fish and Game's Web Site.

" Rp (Reporting Party) was hunting with several other people when he saw a wolf skirting along the brush headed in the same direction he was going.  He yelled and shot into the air and the wolf left.  He then saw three additional wolves about 25 yards ahead of him, and they ran in the same direction as the first wolf.  Rp then heard a noise in the brush, yelled to see if it was his hunting partner and got no response. A black wolf then appeared within 15-20 yards of him and approached him.  Rp shot at the wolf, believes he hit it, and the wolf ran off.  Fish and Wildlife officers responded and investigated and found the Rp to be within his lawful rights."

To visit the web site go here.