Map, Compass & GPS

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

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Solo Hiking

Seattlebackpackersmagazine is a site that I hit all the time.  Lots of great info.

Liz Forster wrote the following post 7 Tips for a Successful Solo Trip.  It is a great read.

Hiking and camping can be some of the most peaceful, and often spiritual, activities. It reminds us to open our ears to every rustling leaf and chirping bird, gaze at more than just the ground in front of our boots and return to the core of why we love carrying a heavy backpack through the woods. As simple as walking in the woods can be, though, hiking and camping alone requires an additional self and outer awareness that group members usually supply. Here are some tips for embarking on your first or hundredth solo trip.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Set Up Your GPS

Summer is a great time to head for the trail and practice with a GPS receiver.  There are several things the hiker can do before leaving home.  Make a short check list so nothing is forgotten.  Begin by checking the electronic setup of the GPS receiver:

  • ·        Take a look at the batteries 
  •           The coordinate system setup 
  •         Electronic mapping 
  • ·         Review the waypoint file.

Then tune-up the receiver is to maximize position accuracy by looking at how displays and
waypoints are managed.

Here are a few recommendations to consider.


  • Dump those old AA batteries, put in new ones.  If you leave your GPS on all day in the field expect to change the batteries nightly.  Consider using lithium AA’s, they last longer and work better in cold temperatures.  Relatively new are the Eneloop rechargeable batteries by Sanyo.  These batteries are great for the day hiker; check Costco or   

  •   “Match the map” with the receiver’s navigation selection options. Specifically, match the coordinate system (e.g., UTM or Latitude/Longitude) and map datum that are found on the map.  Consider shifting the receiver’s compass to degrees true.  Further, let’s have everyone in a hiking or hunting group use the same settings too; let’s all be on the same page.

  • ·         Keep you navigation simple.  It’s easier to work with a handful of waypoints rather than list of 300.  Dump the Junk - Delete the old waypoints, the ones you will never use again.  Log important waypoints (e.g., that lake side camp site) on your PC or in a notebook.  Visit or for a place to store waypoints.  Clear the track log file; the historical record of your journey.

  • Install maps on your GPS receiver.  Maps on the receiver are a natural complement to your paper field map.   Quality maps are available from, and the free maps at

  • Adjust your map pages’ zoom setting to see what works best.  For general trail hiking I keep my zoom setting at 800 feet.  This setting allows me to view trails, water sources, roads and elevation contours.

  • Visit the manufacture’s web site to see if there are any firmware updates.  I do this every couple of months.

  • When batteries are replaced calibrate the electronic compass.

  • Verify that you are receiving enough satellite signals.  Check this on the satellite status screen.  Four satellites are the minimum.  Give older receivers the time to collect satellite data; don’t rush the navigation process.
  • Give key waypoints names.  When marking a waypoint enter names like “camp” and “truck.”  It’s easier and more meaningful to find “truck” in the list of waypoints than is waypoint 542; or was it 245.  

·         After marking a waypoint, verify that it has been saved to the receiver's memory by checking either the map page or in the waypoint file (select “where to” or “find.”)  If the waypoint is on the map or in the list of waypoints, the hiker is ready to go.  If the waypoint is not found, start over.

·         When it’s time to return to a destination chose “Where To” or “Find” on your keypad or menu.  Select the waypoint from the list provided.  Press the “Page” button and rotate through the many displays to the “Compass” page.  A large red arrow should appear on the face of the compass pointing to the selected waypoint.  When on course to the destination the arrow points to the top center of the receiver.  Practice this specific process at home before heading to the field. 

Navigation is a perishable skill.  I recommend that two weeks before an outing take the GPS receiver everywhere.  Add waypoints, delete waypoints and find a saved waypoint.  This process develops familiarization with the unit and allows the user to develop confidence with the receiver and personal ability. 

 Compliment GPS skills with a good review of map and compass fundamentals. Learn to back up electronic position fixing with bearing triangulation.   Worst case, a broken GPS becomes a paperweight for your map while afield.  For more information visit (click on “Post on Land Navigation.”)

·         When on the trail compare GPS position data with a map.  Compare what is presented electronically with what is on the map.

I suggest checking out Lawrence Letham’s book GPS Made Easy from the library.  This book compliments the owner’s manual.  An excellent reference for map and compass use is June Fleming’s Staying Found.

Taking a class can further enhance you GPS knowledge.  Classes are frequently offered through the local community college’s continuing education program or at local retailers such as REI.

Have fun this summer while building on your fundamental navigation skill sets.  Consider setting up a treasure hunt or a geocach for a family get together.  Make it fun, make it simple and explain that these skills could one day make a huge difference if the ever got lost in the woods. 

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

More Compass Tips

Tips on Getting Accurate Compass Readings

A small error when using a compass can result in a significant error in measurement on the
ground.  To obtain accurate readings when using a compass:
  1.   Hold the compass level and steady so the needle swings freely. 
  2.  Hold the compass about waist high in front of the body, except when using a compass with a sighting mirror or a sighting type compass. 
  3. Raise and lower eyes when taking a bearing, do not move your head. Always use the same eye when taking bearings. 
  4. Directly face object that is being measured. 
  5.  Magnetic fields will give incorrect compass readings. Avoid taking readings near magnetic fields such as steel, iron (ferrous metals), vehicles, rebar, and clipboards. Even belt buckles, glasses, and rings can interfere with the compass reading. 
  6. Take bearing twice.  
  7.  Adjust for magnetic declination. 
  8.  Follow the direction of travel arrow, not the compass needle, when walking a bearing. 
  9. Always follow the line indicated by the compass rather than relying on judgment as to the direction. 
  10. Use back bearings to ensure you are on track when navigating.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Three Lost Sisters Found

Key to being found was that they maintained one base camp and stayed in the area.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Is your GPS set up correctly?  Does your GPS's electronic compass match with your magnetic compass?

There are two considerations that need to be taken into account.

First, every time the GPS receiver’s batteries are replaced, the electronic compass needs to be calibrated.  It’s a simple process that requires a quick check of the owner’s manual.

Second, both the compass and GPS receiver must be set to complement each other.  For example, if the hunter has a basic base plate compass (one that cannot be adjusted for declination)  then the GPS receiver’s “north reference” should be set to magnetic.  If the hunter has a compass that can be adjusted for declination then the receiver should be set to true north.  If compass and GPS receiver don’t match then the bearing information may be as much as 10° to 20° off.  That is not good.

I carry a Sylva Ranger style compass that can be adjusted for declination.  Before leaving home I visit to verify the correct declination for my planned hunt or hiking location.  With that information I adjust the compass.  Yes, the magnetic needle still points to magnetic north but the rotating dial provides degree/azimuth information in degrees true.  I’ll then set my GPS receiver’s “north reference” to true north.

Now my GPS and compass settings match my topographic map. That is the best way to do it.