There are several things to keep in mind when buying a
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
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:
dial moves freely and does not stick.
There are no bubbles internal to the compass housing.
engraved on the base plate must be legible.
If there is a magnifying glass verify that it is clear and not
tick marks on the dial are in two degree increments. The tick marks should be readable.
The base plate, rotating dial assembly, and mirror are not chipped or broken.
sighting assembly hinge allows freedom of movement without excess side to side movement
at the hinge .
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.
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.
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.
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 Wunderground.com 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.
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. "
Is your GPS receiver running with the latest software update?
I receive a monthly newsletter from www.gpstraining.co.uk/. 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.
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.
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
Another view of Polaris and adjacent constellations is
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:
book Staying Found is a fine reference about backcountry navigation.