Map, Compass & GPS

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

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Hiking With Children

The following highlights an article by the Statesman Journal writer Zach Umess.  It's all about hiking with children, really small children.  

"Once upon a time, going for a hike was a simple activity.

Toss a few snacks, water and appropriate gear into a backpack, lace up your hiking boots, and you're ready to roll.

That all changes once you have children.

Between diapers, changing pad, spit-up rag, food, toys, carrier, clothes — and a few million other items you'd never even considered — it can feel as though you're outfitting a small army rather than a tiny human being.

And that's without even considering your child's mood.

Taken together, it can be difficult for parents, especially new parents, to get out on the trail.
But a group called Hike It Baby, which recently opened a branch in Salem, is encouraging new parents to get outdoors by offering a supportive atmosphere on organized weekly hikes."

Zach Umess really get's into the detail of this group.  It's worth checking out the rest of his
fine article.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Trip Planning Mistakes

Philip Werner at published this post in 2014.  My friend Peter who is planning for a PCT hike forwarded this on to me.  Lots of lessons learned in this fine article.

"When Wysteria, Sherpa, and I arrived at the trail head we found 4 foot snow drifts covering the trail. It was late March, and we’d planned to backpack north over Mt Greylock past the Massachusetts/Vermont border. We knew that there might be some lingering snow in the early spring, but we had no idea winter would still be in full force. Scratch that trip.
I’ve since learned to wait until mid-April before hiking the AT in Western Massachusetts, Vermont, and New Hampshire for lingering winter snow to melt off."

Read the rest to Peter's post to read the Trip Planning Guide.

As an aside, I really appreciated the following:

"Write up a trip plan to leave with a friend or relative in case you are overdue.
  • When to contact authorities if you are overdue.
  • Who to call, including phone number.
  • Where you parked your car.
  • What your route plan was, including escape routes if any.
  • What gear you are carrying."
Check out my detailed Trip Plan.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Hardtack - Update

In a recent post I wrote about hardtack.  My friend Leon recently posted about a product available in the Northwest.

Leon Pantenburg
I’ve carried and eaten hardtack since my time in the Confederate infantry, and baking it is another history-related activity I enjoy. When I’m really going primitive, hunting with my flintlock rifle, I might pack hardtack, jerky and dehydrated corn for lunch.
Pilot bread is a form of modern hardtack. Consider it as an addition to your storage foods.
Pilot bread is a form of modern hardtack. Consider it as an addition to your storage foods.
But if you’d rather buy a similar hard cracker product for long term storage, take a look at pilot bread. I get my pilot bread from the Freeze Dry Guy, but the product is widely available. It’s a good staple to have on hand – it’s sorta tasty, durable, and has a long shelf life.
If I had to describe pilot bread, I’d call it a salt-less saltine, but with a tougher texture. While the bread is hard, it is easily bitten off, and the texture is much softer than the traditional recipe hardtack I make. Pilot bread also has fewer crumbs than a standard saltine. A nice feature is the durability – pilot bread with peanutbutter and/or fruit jam stands up well to travel in a daypack.
To read the rest of Leon's post go here.

Monday, February 16, 2015

A Go Bag

My last post was about what should go into a hiker's day pack.

Last night I was paging through my March copy of  Washington-Oregon Game & Fish magazine and came across John Geiger's article about a "Special Forces GO Bag."  Geiger uses former Army Special Forces soldier John Peterson's bag contents as an example.

I then did a quick Google search on Go Bags and came up with the following definition:

bug-out bag is a portable kit that normally contains the items one would require to survive for seventy-two hours, when evacuating from a disaster, however some kits are designed to last longer periods of time than just 72 hours. The focus is on evacuation, rather than long-term survival, distinguishing the bug-out bag from a survival kit, a boating or aviation emergency kit, or a fixed-site disaster supplies kit. 

I then did a Google image search and found tons of images of Go or Bug Out bags.

I went back to John Geiger's article and reproduced John Peterson's bag contents.  I did not edit or change the Peterson bag contents.

Recommendation: Compare Peterson's and Kummerfeldt's  bag contents to determine works best for you.  For example, I would suggest updating the Peterson contents with a newer version of the Garmin eTrek GPS or another model such as the Garmin 64s.

Friday, February 13, 2015

A Serious Hiker's Day Pack

I was present at one of Peter Kummerfeldt's last seminars during  the Northwest Sportsman Show in Portland, Oregon earlier this month.  After 50 years of providing survival training he is scaling back his busy travel schedule.  

Peter Kummerfeldt - Outdoor Safe Image
During a 50 year career he as written an outstanding book - Surviving a Wilderness Emergency - and taught thousands of people the concepts of survival in the backcountry.

If one was to visit Peter after a one hour presentation, followed him to his both, you would find his wife Mary selling their select line of survival gear.  Children would be waiting to learn how to start an emergency fire with a metal match and cotton ball (loaded up with petroleum jelly.)

Peter also had an array of handouts.  My favorite was the handout that listed the contents of his day pack.  His pack is not that of a minimalist and contained far more that the "ten essentials." I have attached his day pack contents, there is a lot of equipment but the total weight is about 20 pounds.

This year he emptied his pack and talked about the key items and several recommendations.  I took notes and here are a few highlights for your consideration:

  • A waist band on your pack is essential to balance the load properly.  That said, when crossing swift water unbuckle the waist band so that it can be shed  quickly. 
  • Peter is a big proponent of stainless steel water bottles by Klean Kanteen.  Nalgene are fine but watch out for the cheap ones from China.
  • The Coughlin brand offers a small, light stand up rubber/plastic cup that takes little room.
  • A 10' x 10' nylon tarp is a big plus.  Light weight, water proof and strong.  A blue poly tarp works too but it is heavier.
  • Visit the feed store and buy some "vet wrap" to put in your first aid kit.  Vet wrap is an adhesive wrap that holds gauze sponges and bandages in place.  I think of Vet wrap as the duct tape of the first aid world. 
  • A Esbit stove and the fuel tabs is a nice addition to warm water in an emergency. 

What ever you put in your pack see if you can use or manipulate your equipment with just one hand.  Often when folks are in an emergency situation an injury is frequently involved and single hand operations might be a necessity.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Is Your GPS Broken

What do you do when a compass breaks or the GPS just doesn’t seem to be working right?  Here are a few suggestions that will help the navigator.

The theme of this post is to discuss what options the backcountry navigator has with equipment that might not be working correctly. 

When equipment does not appear to provide the correct indication (such as the GPS bearing to the trail head) it’s time to stop.  Never rush navigation.  Stop and take the time to really look over the information provided.  Consult with the rest of the group.

Being able to recognize the proper operation of the hiker’s equipment is important.  This is obtained through field checks well before any trip.  The gas stove can be tested at home before the journey.  The navigation kit can be evaluated throughout the year at the local park or forest. I recommend to the elk and deer hunters in my GPS classes to take their receiver everywhere they go for two weeks prior to leaving for camp.  Push buttons, change displays, mark a waypoint and finally, return to a destination.  Like a pilot of a plane, a map, compass and GPS are the instruments in the backcountry cockpit.

Normally a magnetic compass’ needle rotates freely.  The needle rotates on a jeweled pivot point.  The magnetic compass should be kept level while in use allowing the magnetic needle to move about in the compasses housing.  My Suunto recently just stopped rotating.  I would change direction about 30 degrees and the magnetic needle would move about 15 degrees and then just hang up.

Sadly, there is no simple in the field fix for this.  I gently tapped the compass body and checked the movement of the housing but nothing seemed to work.  Never let broken gear clutter your pack or be used mistakenly.

A back up compass is very helpful in such a situation.  It doesn’t have to be expensive, just reliable.  No matter what you use for a back up, it has to work well and requires testing.  I take all my new compasses to a location in town where the streets run north and south (degrees true.)  I will hike the streets insuring that the compass is on the mark.  This only takes a few minutes.  Recently I noticed that one of my small ball compasses seemed to be at least 20 degrees off; it’s a goner.  Note, that a small back up compass may not be as precise as your primary model.  Also recognize that some compass will only provide a trend of direction such as moving in a northerly direction as opposed to tracking on a direction of 025°.

Before throwing a quality compass out, contact the manufacturer to see what the warranty offers.

So what does the hiker do if the GPS receiver appears to be broken?  
The following are steps that I’ll perform:

1.    If I have a GPS with an electronic compass I’ll ensure the compass is activated.  For example on the Garmin 60 series, pressing and holding the “page” button with turn the compass on or off.

2.    I’ll ensure the electronic compass is calibrated.  The compass must be calibrated after each battery change.

3.    Check the charge on the batteries.  If in doubt replace them.

4.    When the “Go To, Find or Where Is” option has been selected, older models will require motion to cause the compass arrow and displays to adjust.  Take five or more steps and see if there are any changes with the display.

5.    Turn the GPS receiver off, open the battery case and remove one battery for about twenty seconds, return the battery and power up the receiver again. 

6.    Once powered up, I want to be certain that the receiver has captured the signals from at least four satellites.

7.    Worse case - call the manufacturer.  Call early in the morning.

Monday, February 2, 2015


Hardtack has been a staple in the back country for years; a boring staple for sure.  Still it is filling. 

Hard Tack has been around a very long time.  The G. H. Bent Companyhe has been making Hard Tack since 1801 and still sells it today.  The company was a supplier to Union Forces in the Civil War.

A few years ago I made Hard Tack to take along on a backpacking trip into Glacier National Park with two of my sons.  On their first try of this dry biscuit they both thought it was "pretty lame."  On day three of the trip, while eating spaghetti, they devoured it.

So, here is a simple recipe.

Hard Tack Recipe

2 cups of flour
1/2 to 3/4 cup water
6 pinches of salt
1 tablespoon of shortening (optional)

Mix all the ingredients into a batter and press on to a cookie sheet to a thickness of ½ inch.
Bake in a preheated oven at 400°F (205°C) for one hour.

Remove from oven, cut dough into 3-inch squares, and punch four rows of holes, four holes per row into the dough (a fork works nicely).

Flip the crackers and return to the oven for another half hour.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Compass Navigation

 A quality compass is an integral part of the backcountry navigator’s kit.  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.

This post discusses the steps to be taken to use a compass to plot one’s location on a topographic (topo) map in the back country.  In the vocabulary of navigation this is also known as “fixing” or determining “position.”

The first step is to ensure that the hiker has adequate maps both in quality and quanity.   I recommend carrying a set of maps that include 7.5’ United States Geological Survey (USGS) maps and a second map type such a United States Forest Service map.  The USGS map gives me the detailed information of the immediate area while the other map covers a much broader and larger area. 

Before heading for the trail, take a look at the maps at home.  Scouting from your desk allows you to find significant land features that will surround the direction of travel.  Features such as distinct mountain peaks, a stream, and a ridge line are just of few topographic “hand rails” that can be of value in the field.  By spending some time at home with the map the hiker develops a mental map, a mental picture of the trek in advance of the actual journey. 

Account for declination before leaving the trailhead.  I like to keep my navigation simple and personally use a compass that can be adjusted for declination such as the Brunton 8010G or the Silva Ranger.  Declination information found at the bottom of a topographic map is frequently out of date.  Check the web site  for the current declination.

 “A compass is basically a magnet mounted on a pivot, free to turn in response to the pull of the earth’s magnetic field.  The housing protects the needle and helps you relate the direction in which the needle points to directions on the map and on the land.  A compass by itself can’t tell you where you are or what you are looking at but it can tell you about direction….”

Staying Found, The Complete Map & Compass Handbook, by June Fleming

Sighting with a compass allows the hiker to do several things.

First, sighting on a distant object can provide direction to that object and repeated sightings can provide course corrections along the way.  Secondly, with several sightings on different objects a person’s position can be determined and plotted.

Compass direction to an object is known as the “bearing” or azimuth.   Bearing is the more common term in outdoor recreation and is a term used heavily in GPS navigation.  For example, if a mountain peak is due north of you, the bearing to the peak is 000° (read as zero zero zero degrees.)  A compass can also assist the hiker by orienting a map and following a line of bearing taken from a map.

The picture below offers a quick review of the components of a baseplate compass.

To sight or take a bearing do the following:

  1. Using the owner’s manual, adjust the compass for declination.
  2. While holding the compass at waist level, turn squarely towards a distant object.  Hold the compass so that the direction of travel arrow points directly at the object. (Point the direction of travel arrow away from you, perpendicular to your body.)
  1. While holding the compass, turn the compass housing (the dial) and align the orienting arrow (a red arrow engraved in the rotating housing) underneath the red magnetic needle.

 To determine and plot or “fix” a position, the next step is to plot bearings on the map. In a “nut shell” this means that bearings to three clearly identifiable features are used.  Ideally, objects that have a bearing separation of 30° – 60°.  Good bearing separation provides better fixing information and plots on the map cleanly.  The bearings are then plotted on a map and where the three lines cross is the hiker’s location.  This complete process is called triangulation.

The following are suggestions for triangulating a position in the back country.

  1. Identify three (or more) distinct objects to sight on.  Note that the objects need to be on the topo of the area. 
  2. Orient the topo using the compass.  Orienting the topo means that the map’s left or right border is pointing to true north or 000° degrees true. 
  3. Sight on an object such as a mountain peak or church spire.  (Note that not many objects in the backcountry are so distinct and crisp.  Do the best with what you have.)  Ensure the direction of travel arrow is pointed towards the object.  Be as accurate as you can, point directly at the object.
  4. Turn the compass housing until the orienting arrow is directly under red magnetic needle.  Do not move or rotate the compass housing, keep the new bearing in place.
  5. At this point, and while plotting the bearing on the map, the compass will now be used like a protractor.  Importantly, the movement of the magnetic needle is not important.
  6. Lay the compass on the map with either the top left or right corner of the baseplate on the landmark.  This will be a pivot point while aligning the compass.

  1. With the edge of the baseplate in position, rotate the compass (swing) left or right until the N (north) of the compass housing aligns with map North (the top of the map.) 
  2. Draw a line (along the baseplate) from the object (e.g., the mountain peak) to your approximate area.  Draw a nice long line.
  3. Repeat the process two more times using other distant objects to sight on.
  4. Ideally the three lines will intersect in the immediate area; this is the hikers location.  But because of compass error and human error the point of intersection maybe spread out.  Still, triangulation will put you in the ballpark.  Use terrain association to help narrow down your position.