Map, Compass & GPS

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

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

30 Great American Hikes

The following post is from the editors of The Active Times.

It’s hard to say exactly why hiking is such a popular pastime in the U.S. It could be the accessibility; there are hundreds of major trails and countless marked and unmarked offshoots. It could be that getting started is as easy as putting one foot in front of the other, but challenging treks will keep even the most expert hiker on their toes. Maybe it’s witnessing the beauty and diversity of nature with the land beneath your feet.

To read the rest of their article go here.

I guess they have never been to Oregon or Washington.  Hmmmmmmm

Monday, April 28, 2014

Topographic Map Symbols

USGS topographic maps provide a lot of information to the hiker by the use of symbols and bench marks.

Check out my post at about the symbols found on a USGS topo.

Go here for my post.

To learn more about topographic map contour lines go here.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Selecting A Magnetic Compass

You don’t have to spend a lot of money to buy a good quality compass.  Consider the following when looking for a compass:
  •  Brunton, Sunnto, and Silva all make good compasses.  There are other companies, of
    course, but these manufacturers can be found nationwide.  Prices start at about $20.  Each company has less expensive models but I would pass on those.
  • The compass dial (the circular component with the degree markings) should be “graduated” in two degree increments.  Those models with 5 degree increments or the small ball compasses (with the large safety pin type of clip) will give you a trend of direction through the woods but fall short when being used for serious land navigation.
  • A compass with a good base plate is very handy.  A base plate is essentially a clear, flat plastic rectangular plate.  It is a straight edge when drawing bearing lines or measuring information on a map.  I like a large base plate.  The better compass will have good scaling and measuring information etched into its surface.  Some models have a magnifying lens in the plate for reading the details on a map.
  • I won’t buy a compass that cannot be adjusted for declination.  Brunton’s models can be adjusted by simply turning two components while the Sunnto and Silva models come with a small flat screw driver to make adjustments.  The adjustable compass eliminates the requirement to calculate declination.   Do remember that the magnetic needle always points to magnetic north and the adjusting accounts for the angular measurement of declination.
  • The compass housing should be liquid filled.  The liquid inside the housing dampens the movement of the magnetic needle when motion stops.  This does make a difference and there are a few compasses out there without this liquid; the difference is noticeable.
  • I appreciate a compass that has a small hole in the base plate that allows me to run a short length of parachute cord through it for a lanyard.
  • For more precise navigation, a compass with a sighting mechanism is very useful.  The Silva Ranger model immediately comes to mind.  I would urge you to be careful if you intend to purchase a military style or lensatic compass.  A quality lensatic will cost between $40 and $80.   There are several “knock offs” that aren’t worth your time and lack that liquid filling.
After purchasing your compass, test it out right away.  I have sold several hundred compasses
and a handful didn’t work correctly.  In one case, the magnetic needle was painted incorrectly and the red arrow pointed south instead of north.  In my navigation classes I’ll use features (roads, trail segments) that I know are laid out in true north to stay dialed in.  Faulty compasses jump right out with their inaccuracies when you trek along a route that you know runs true north.
So, now that you have your compass, how do you use it?   Well, if you live in Central Oregon you could take my class!  Otherwise, my suggested list of references includes:
  • – This is a great web site that features the US military’s lensatic compass.  That’s OK as the concepts presented are universal.
  • Staying Found, The Complete Map & Compass Handbook, by June Fleming.  This book offers a simple, straight forward approach to land navigation. 
  • Be Expert with Map and Compass, by Bjorn Kjellstrom.  This is a common reference and was a text book for me at Oregon State in 1973.
Compass navigation is a perishable skill; it takes practice.  In my compass classes I suggest that, as a minimum, two weeks before your next outing work with that compass frequently.  Practice bearing triangulation and increase your familiarity with a topographic map.

Compass navigation provides the foundation for GPS navigation.  The more you understand how your compass works the more you will understand how to operate your GPS receiver.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Calibrate Your GPS Receiver's Electronic Compass

Keeping your GPS receiver's electronic compass is critical.

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 rest of the post go here.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Search and Rescue Works To Save Two Horses Mired in Mud

Oregon's Deschutes County SAR team responds to save two horses mired in belly deep thick mud. Participating were the teams mountain rescue  and horse units, Sister's Fire Department and a Vet from Bend Equine.  By the time it was all over the two horses were extremly hypothermic but they survived.

Everyone loves a happy ending, which is often dependent on people who volunteer their time, skills and strength to rescue someone from misfortune.
 I carefully planned my horse ride on April 19, picking a trail that was safe. I had a new puppy and horses without shoes. The Windigo Trail north of USFS Road 1514 was just right, a favorite trail that I've been riding for over 30 years. 

To read the rest of the story go here.

Knife Review

A Review of Bark River Knives: Bushcrafter

When it comes to bushcraft/survival knives, how much is enough? How do you make sure your knife will be up to the task? Here’s a product from Bark River Knives that might be what you need.

In the past decade or so, my bushcraft and utility knife needs have pretty much been taken care of  by a standard trio. I carry a Swiss Army Classic everywhere, usually include a Mora to handle utility duties, and then include a specialty knife for hunting and/or fishing.

The Bark River Liten Bror, top, is a Scandinavian-design bushcraft knife. It is very similar to my long-used, sometimes abused Mora 860.
The Bark River Liten Bror, top, is a Scandinavian-design bushcraft knife. It is similar to my long-used, sometimes abused Mora 860.

Mora is a brand. With a Mora, you can get a quality fixed blade, comfortable handle and reasonable price, all in the same package. Generally speaking, I define a Mora-style as a knife with a  rigid, three-to-four-inch blade, a Scandinavian grind and overall length of about eight inches. The handle typically doesn’t have a guard, and the knife is intended to be an all-purpose, general-use cutting tool.

The Mora I carry most often, a model 860, cost $15 about 10 years ago. My C.T. Fischer custom four-inch bushcraft knife goes for about $250. In both cases, I consider the money well-spent.

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

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Emergency Preparedness - Bugging Out

My friend Leon has an intriguing post on why "heading for the hills" might not be the best idea.
 by Leon Pantenburg
Five reasons why heading for the hills during an emergency is a bad idea:

 At virtually any preparedness event I go to, someone proclaims stockpiling food is a waste of money, and that when everything goes down, he/she will light out for the wilderness.  The topic is one for debate on Facebook and a multitude of prepper/survivalist websites.

The idea is that when (fill in the appropriate acronym) happens, society will collapse and everyone will have to fend for themselves. But some survivalists will head for the wilderness and live off the land, apart from everyone else until the situation resolves itself.

Here’s the reality check: “Heading for the hills,”  or whatever you want to call it, is impractical and probably foolhardy.

Here’s five reasons why you shouldn’t head for the wilderness:

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

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

GPS Setup - Using the Right Coordinates

A good friend has given you the coordinates to his favorite fishing spot at Elk Lake.  He was genuinely excited and pleased to give you this treasured location.  Now you can enter this information into you GPS and you will be all set.
Well maybe not.
A GPS is a very versatile backcountry computer and satellite receiver.  Today’s receiver can be taken anywhere around the world and when setup properly will provide accurate position information.  Coordinate information can be uploaded/downloaded to a PC and edited.
It is the setup process that our fisherman needs to be aware of.
There are two setup features that I’d recommend the user become familiar with.  These two features are the coordinate system  and map datum.
To read the rest of this post go here.

To read the follow-on post to set up your GPS go here.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Magnetic Compass - Sighting/Taking a Bearing

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.

A compass is an important part of the backcountry navigator’s kit.  The use of Global Positioning System (GPS) receivers has simplified navigation to an extent but the knowledge of how to use a compass is still important; do not underestimate this skill.  

To learn how to use a magnetic compass go here.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Monitoring the Weather - Part II

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.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Monitoring the Weather

In the field forecasting is an important skill for the backcountry hiker.  Learning the basics is an important first step.

I previously posted a short article about using your GPS to monitor barometric pressure while in the backcountry; go here to read the post.  I thought it might be worthwhile to cover a few other topics about in the field observations.  This post is about thunderstorms.

Let me begin by stating that forecasting begins at home.  Monitor the local cable channels to get a broad, general idea of the weather conditions before an outing.  Further refine that information by checking Internet sources such as and the National Weather Service’s site

My “go to” reference is Northwest Mountain Weather by Jeff Renner (published by the
Mountaineers).   Renner is a professional meteorologist and broadcaster, an outdoorsman and flight instructor.  He has several other books in print that are worth checking into.
Northwest Mountain Weather provides a superb overview on how “the weather works” in the Pacific Northwest.  Uniquely focused to this region, this book provides an overview on climate and weather, local weather patterns, snow and avalanche conditions, and provides many charts and data sources. 

My personal favorite is Chapter Seven’s “Field Forecasting Guidelines.” This chapter identifies what to watch for and monitor while in the backcountry.  

The balance of this post will focus on what to consider about hiking during periods of thunderstorm activity.

The dark clouds of a thunderstorm provide a strong sense of mass and energy.  They can be seen a long way off.  Avoid them when possible.
As a storm develops you will notice that the clouds may change shape, grow taller and darker.
In many cases an anvil shaped cloud growing tall and developing a distinct leading edge maybe observed.  This is a sign that a storm is on the way.
Lightning is the predominant killer associated with a thunderstorm.  Roughly 40 people are killed each year and approximately 240 are injured.  Visit the National Weather Service’s site for more information about lightning safety;
The ideal action to avoid the danger of a significant storm is to get out of the weather.  Leave the field for the safety of a building or a car.  Caves can provide shelter but must be deep and dry.  A shallow cave offers almost no protection.

Renner’s guide lines and actions include:

  •          Do watch for cumulus showing strong upward development.
  •           Do choose a campsite uphill from valley floor.
  •           Do get away from exposed areas, pinnacles, peaks.
  •           Do get away from water.
  •           Do seek low ground in open valleys and meadows.
  •           Do move at once if hair or scalp feels tingly.
  •           Do not stand under trees.”[1]
Wilderness Survival trainer Peter Kummerfeldt amplifies Renner’s comment by adding the following:

            “Be proactive – don’t wait until you are getting wet to suspend outdoor activities.
Don’t be connected to the tallest object in the area.  If caught outside, move into low trees of even height and stand away from tree trunks.  Stay away from isolated trees.
Water is a great conductor of electricity – get out of the water at the first sign of a storm developing.”[2]  (For more information visit Kummerfeldt’s web site,

Thunderstorms have the potential to deliver large quantities of water. 

Look for higher ground and stay out of stream beds that may flood significantly and without warning.  The key is to stay alert and make a plan of action when a storm approaches. 

[1] Jeff Renner, Northwest Mountain Weather, (The Mountaineers, 1992), p 100
[2] Peter Kummerfeldt, Surviving a Wilderness Emergency, (OutdoorSafe Press, 2006), p56-57 

Friday, April 18, 2014

Backcountry Hiking With Your Dog

Just visited the blog at the Mother Nature Network.  My first visit.  I came across this post about hiking with your dog in the backcountry.  The writer Jaymi Heimbuch has some excellent pointers for dog owners.

Now that spring has sprung, many of us have itchy feet to be outside hiking and enjoying the great outdoors. And that goes for our four-legged best friends, too. Hiking safely and responsibly with your dog is a little more involved than just hopping out of the car and setting loose on a trail. This advice will get you ready to tackle the trail with your dog, and teach you how to be socially and environmentally conscious while hiking.
Is your dog ready for hiking?
There are a few things to consider before you head out on the trail with your dog which will guarantee a safe, joyful trek.

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

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Earth Quake Readiness

The following is a April 13 New York Times article and video about earth quake preparedness in California and Oregon.

Readiness, or lack of it, is also on the national mind in this country after back-to-back earthquakes rocked Southern California in late March. Damage was relatively slight. But a question that had loomed for decades suddenly gained new urgency: How prepared are Americans, especially Californians, for the anticipated killer quake routinely referred to with a mixture of dread and awe as the Big One? That question is the focus of the latest installment of Retro Report, a series of video documentaries that hark back to major news stories from the past, and examine what has happened since.

To read the complete post go here.

Topographic Map Contour Lines

Contours are the thin brown lines that snake across a topographic (topo) map.  Contour lines connect equal points of elevation such that every point on a specific line will be at that elevation above sea level.  

Contour lines are distinct and separate from lines for roads, coordinate systems (e.g., latitude and longitude) and trails.  Man made features like roads and buildings are black.  Contour lines are brown.  By adding elevation data to the map contour lines provide a three dimensional view of the terrain.  These lines provide shape and a sense of texture. 

The graphic above uses shading and electronic editing in an attempt to gain a three dimensional view of the terrain.  Compare the two maps.

Here are a few “keys to the kingdom” of reading these the brown contour lines.

There are two primary types of contour lines, index and intermediate lines. 

The dark brown, wider lines (below) are “index lines.”  The numbers adjacent correspond to altitude along the line.

For example, if the hiker locates his position on the topo and its right on top of the dark brown line with 5200 printed on the line, the altitude at that point is 5200 feet.  Consider the altitude to be the height above sea level.

The faint brown lines between the index lines are “intermediate contour” lines (see graphic above.)  Critical to intermediate lines is the specific elevation change between the lines.  This is known as the “contour interval.” The contour interval could be 10 feet, 20 feet or 200 feet; it just depends on the scale of the map and terrain.  To find the contour interval on a topo go to the bottom of the map or to the map key/index.  On a United States Geologic Survey (USGS) 7.5 minute topo map it will be at the bottom center of the map.  In the graphic below, the contour interval is circled in red.
In the small map above, look at Browns Mountain.  The spacing between the intermediate contour lines represents an elevation change of 20 feet.  Notice that the index lines are spaced five contour intervals apart or 100 feet between index lines.

Contour lines (index and intermediate) can provide a view of slope and pitch, depressions, ridge lines and level ground; the highs and lows of the earth’s surface.
The contour lines at Browns Mountain are close together and represent a steep increase in elevation.  Lines close together can indicate a peak, hill, ridge line or a cliff.

The contours of the land area to the left or west of Browns Mountain are spaced farther apart.  Such lines indicate flat ground like a meadow or plain.  Lines far apart make for gentle slopes and flat ground.

Ridges, valleys, and streams are represented by contour lines too.  A line’s shape identifies these land features.  For example, a valley’s shape is formed by a collection of “v’s.”  Tips of the v's point toward higher elevations.  Look at Alder Creek on the map below.  Note that the creek bed is in the bottom of a valley and water flow is from higher elevation to lower.

The contour lines that shape Alder Creek have v’s that point to higher altitude.  Look closely at the index lines and try to determine the elevation change as the creek flows north.

Contours shaped like a v or u, pointing toward lower elevation denotes ridges.  Notice the shape of the contour lines to the right and east of Alder Creek.  The v’s tips point toward lower elevation.  In fact, the v’s have become more like expanded “u’s.”

For more information about contour lines visit or search the internet for the “World of Teaching – Topographic maps” (a very fine power point presentation.)

Learn more about monitoring the weather while inthe field here.